54% of businesses feel apprehensive about the new Brexit import rules

Businesses are apprehensive about new Brexit border checks that come into place next week, as both the UK and the EU are revealed to be largely unprepared.

Under the government’s new border strategy, the Border Target Operating Model (BTOM), an array of new controls on food imports from the EU will begin to roll out from 30 January.

But a “lack of clarity” from government on the details of those requirements is leading to significant apprehension among UK importers, as well as their EU suppliers, according to the Institute of Export & International Trade.

A recent poll from the institute showed 54% of businesses agreed with the statement “I feel apprehensive about the new EU-UK rules coming into force this year”, while a further 21% strongly agreed.

“Unfortunately, we have discovered that anxiety over the past few months has actually increased, and preparedness has decreased by about 23%,” said IOE&IT director general Marco Forgione on Thursday.

The poll showed only 9% of companies were very confident and just 3% were ready for the upcoming changes, Forgione added.

The first phase of the border strategy will place goods under three different categories: low, medium and high-risk.

The latter two will have to produce additional paperwork such as export health certificates signed by European vets. Physical SPS checks will then roll out from April.

Read more: Is Britain’s new Brexit border ready to roll?

Forgione said EU businesses also “seem unprepared” for the requirements.

“We have heard that there are significant concerns, particularly in Germany and Poland, over the vet capacity to provide the export health certificates that are required,” he added.

“We’ve also heard anecdotally that there are similar concerns in Spain.”

Defra has been running multiple workshops open to industry over the past few weeks to prepare businesses for the new rules.

But Forgione pointed out that crucial details still lacked clarity, such as the proposed Common User Charge, a still-unclear fee that traders whose medium- and high-risk goods are eligible for physical checks at border control – like some meat and dairy products – will have to pay, and “what exactly constitutes a consignment” under those proposals.

“We are building towards the checks that will come into place in April, and there is a confusion between Defra, who will be having ultimate responsibility, and the port health authorities as to what checks will be undertaken, the regularity of them and how they will be carried out.

“These are issues that traders tell us they need to understand in order to be fully and properly prepared for the implementation over the BTOM.

“We are entirely supportive of the UK government’s ambition to establish the best border by 2025. But you can’t do that without ensuring that there is due and appropriate preparedness,” he said.

Businesses and trade representatives attending the government’s BTOM workshops have complained of lack of communication and clarity from officials on an array of issues, from the costs they will face at the different border control posts (BCP), to lack of confirmation of BCP opening hours and what that will mean for driver hours, as well as availability of vets in the EU to issue certificates in the correct language.

Read more: Defra budget cuts to Dover food inspections ‘serious’ risk to UK food safety

Last week, Dover Port Health Authority also rang the alarm over Defra’s decision to move SPS checks on EU imports entering Britain through the Short Straits, from Dover to a new Sevington BCP – 22 miles away from the UK official port of entry.

DPHA has claimed the move poses a threat to the UK’s food safety and public health, as Defra has not yet made clear how exactly the goods will be controlled throughout the journey. 

DPHA is particularly worried that sending goods to Sevington will boost the chances of potentially unsafe or illegal goods either accidentally or intentionally entering the UK.

Health authorities have also warned the infrastructure of the Sevington BCP is not ready for certain physical checks – such as on meat carcases – therefore putting those products at risk.

A Defra spokesperson said the new border model would see “a significant reduction in the number of checks required at BCPs”. 

Although it had considered maintaining operations at both Dover’s Bastion Point and Sevington, it found the two sites were not necessary to service the anticipated volume of checks, it said, adding using both sites would cost an additional £7m per year.