The official announcement of a further delay to physical checks on imports from the EU drew a mixed reaction on Thursday, with some food traders backing the move but the opposition saying it would leave businesses “in limbo”.

The government’s communiqué, which put back the proposed start of checks until the end of next year, was widely expected after the government dropped several strong hints in recent weeks.

Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said imposing the checks and paperwork in July as planned would be “wrong”, as businesses were being “hit by rising costs caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine and in energy prices”.

Businesses may then pass on the costs to shoppers, who were “already facing pressures on their finances”, he added. 

The checks, which would include health certificate requirements and inspections of cargo, were put back three times last year after the EU had imposed checks on British goods – leading to a fall in British food exports to the bloc. Minimal reciprocal controls on imports from the EU were put in place at British ports in January this year, however.

Rees-Mogg said the government would now review “how to implement these remaining controls in an improved way”, with a greater emphasis on harnessing “the power of data and technology”.

Labour’s shadow trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said while the plan to wait to use “smarter technology at the border” was worthwhile, the delay would leave businesses who had prepared for the July start “in limbo”.

“Businesses need certainty for them to be able to deal with supply chains and to export”, he said, accusing the government of “chaotic” decision-making.

Putting his name to the government’s statement announcing the postponement, Eurotunnel’s public affairs director John Keefe said the delay was “good for traders as it reduces import declaration paperwork on food and perishables”.

Meanwhile, Marco Forgione, director general of the Institute of Export & International Trade, said it was understandable the government went ahead with the postponement due to “pressures on businesses and families at this time”.

“What is important now is that government works speedily and transparently towards a settled state for the border, so that traders, who have had to cope with so much change, can have the certainty they need to plan for the long term”, he said.

Only a long-term food strategy for the UK can truly address the cost of living crisis

But speaking before the postponement was confirmed, Andrew Kuyk, director general of the Provision Trade Federation, said he expected “mixed views” about any delay.

Shelving the checks “should help minimise additional costs and administrative difficulties and help reduce the prospect of bottlenecks”, Kuyk suggested.

Cold Chain Federation CEO Shane Brennan welcomed the announcement, saying “despite all the hard work preparing it was clear that the July vet controls would have had a devastating effect on the ability of our food businesses to import goods”.

“We are dealing with significant supply chain stress and inflationary costs this year and this would have made a bad situation much worse,” Brennan said.

And Fresh Produce Consortium CEO Nigel Jenney described the postponement as “a positive outcome for the majority of our industry”, which he said hoped planned “levels of inspection” would be diminished if and when the checks were finally put in place.

However, the National Sheep Association said it was “disappointed” at the announcement, with CEO Phil Stocker echoing earlier warnings from other food sector representatives of “a real danger” of an “unlevel playing field” due to EU exporters being able to send goods checks-free to the UK. 

The PTF’s Kuyk warned that while some would welcome the postponement, it would on the other hand “prolong the competitive advantage currently enjoyed by EU exporters to the UK as compared to UK exporters to the EU, who have had to face full controls since the end of transition”.

And the NFU branded the delay ”unacceptable”, with president Minette Batters describing the again-postponed checks as “absolutely crucial to the nation’s biosecurity, animal health and food safety”.

Those comments were  echoed by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, which said a ”refusal to inspect food imports could have severe public health consequences”.

The body was “deeply concerned about the ramifications of this decision”, said CIEH Northern Ireland director Gary McFarlane. “The government is responsible for ensuring the safety and standards of our food, and the move to drop checks and inspections on imports represents a clear dereliction of duty“.