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Business and trade minister Kemi Badenoch has been criticised by Labour for her handling of the government’s post-Brexit border strategy

Labour has slammed the government for its “absolutely shambolic” post-Brexit border strategy amid “huge uncertainty” for businesses.

The opposition party has written to business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch demanding clarity, after reports that ministers will once again delay the implementation of border checks on EU food imports.

The UK was set to roll out its new trade strategy, also known as the Border Target Operating Model (TOM), in October.

The first stage of the plans included new health certification requirements for medium and high-risk goods entering Britain from the EU, such as meat and dairy.

This would be followed by physical checks of some food goods at new border control posts next year.

While there hasn’t been an official confirmation from No 10, it is widely understood among industry that government will soon announce it is postponing border controls to January 2024, over fears the added financial burden on businesses would fuel food inflation.

Labour’s shadow international trade minister, Gareth Thomas, told Badenoch her “chaotic” handling of the border strategy was “deeply damaging” for businesses, many of whom had already spent thousands of pounds in preparation for the border checks.

“The government’s handling of this important issue has been absolutely shambolic,” Thomas said. “They have delayed new border checks time and again, creating huge uncertainty for businesses, who are already struggling as a result of Conservative economic mismanagement.

“With the deadlines for new checks just months away, it is unacceptable that businesses have not received a clear update from the government on whether the new border arrangements are even going to be introduced.”

Read more: Brexit border checks delay – what does it mean for the supply chain?

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Businesses bringing in food goods from the EU face a barrage of red tape once new border controls roll out

Plans to roll out controls on all goods entering Britain post-Brexit were initially meant to begin at the start of 2021, around the same time the EU introduced strict requirements on all UK exports.

But they have since been delayed four times over the past two years – with rumours pointing to a fifth delay to the proposed October 2023 timeline.

Thomas also wrote in his letter to Badenoch that the delay would mean “yet more taxpayers’ money has been wasted on preparing for new border measures”.

The government’s latest statement on the Border Target Operating Model read: “The government remains committed to delivering the best border in the world. 

“We are reflecting on the valuable feedback provided by a range of businesses and industry stakeholders and will publish the Border Target Operating Model shortly.”

Both British food importers and European exporters have warned of price rises and availability pressures linked to the upcoming border controls.

However, the farming sector has argued a further postponement to checks is unfair to British producers, as it continues to give a free pass to Continental rivals, while they have had to endure checks on all fresh food exports to the bloc for the past two years.

“While we have yet to see any official government announcement, any further delay would exasperate many farmers, who face barriers for their exports to the EU which are not being reciprocated on imports coming the other way,” said the National Farmers Union’s trade and business strategy director Nick von Westenholz.

“We appreciate the need to protect consumers from rising food prices, but it is vital we introduce proportionate checks on all our food imports that keep costs for importers to a minimum while properly managing biosecurity and food safety risks.”

Read more: Could new Brexit border controls spell the death of UK delis?

Marco Forgione, director general of the Institute of Export & International Trade, agreed that the disparity between UK and EU exporters presented “a real commercial disadvantage” for British businesses, and that the new border controls were an important step in “levelling the playing field”.

“Businesses that trade internationally require certainty and clarity to be able to plan for the future and the implementation of TOM is a key aspect of this.

“As the continued delays will prolong this uncertainty for all those involved in the import of sanitary and phytosanitary goods to the UK, from the EU and the rest of the world, it is important this is taken into account when timings are being considered.”

He said the institute for exports had been working closely with members to ensure they were ready for the switch.