Delays at the border from next month caused by government unpreparedness could result in food shortages, logistics groups have warned

The government has been told to “sort the border” to prevent supply chain breakdown ahead of busy periods such as Easter and the May bank holiday.

Food businesses are still in the dark as to how exactly post-Brexit controls, part of the government’s Border Target Operating Model strategy, will take place next from the end of next month, when physical checks on EU imports are formally introduced.

The knock-on effects of the additional red tape, in addition to travel delays during busier periods, could be “significant”, warned business group Logistics UK. It called for the government to clarify its post-Brexit border arrangements with the bloc.

“Despite ongoing representations to the government’s departments involved in the new border arrangements, our members are still in the dark when it comes to critical information about how the new Border Target Operating Model is to work,” said the group’s head of trade, Nichola Mallon.

“Fresh produce cannot be left languishing in vehicles for long periods of time – we need to be able to move it effectively to our customers with as little delay as possible.

“Add in the challenge of negotiating traffic jams caused by holiday traffic … and the risks to supply chains and potential for product shortages in supermarkets becomes very real,” she warned.

About 30% of all the food consumed in the UK comes from the EU, according to the BRC, including almost half of the fresh vegetables and the majority of fresh fruit sold in supermarkets.

But one month away from the introduction of the checks, which have been postponed various times since the UK left the EU in 2021, businesses moving crucial goods across the border still do not know what import charges will be applied to every consignment that enters the UK.

This includes the proposed Common User Charge, a fee that border control posts (BCPs) will charge traders but which has still not been confirmed.

Read more: Lack of clarity around looming Brexit checks leaves industry ‘apprehensive’

Portsmouth International Port director Mike Sellers said in a statement last week: “With just over a month to go before physical checks take place at BCPs and in order for the port to remain competitive, we are still waiting for details from the government on the Common User Charge to be levied on food imports through government-run facilities, so we know how charges will be applied to goods inspected at the port.

“It’s frustrating we’re unable to let our customers know how they will be affected, as they have understandably been asking what costs they’re likely to face.

“All of the uncertainty makes it difficult for customers to budget for additional costs and for the port to efficiently introduce changes to goods coming through Portsmouth.”

Logistics UK said it remained concerned about the “capabilities and capacity at border control posts to efficiently process” perishable goods.

The group’s comments come amid months of warnings from port health authorities that some BCPs are not ready for the influx of checks next month – including the new Sevington facility destined to process most of the goods coming through the Short Straits.

“These are business-critical issues which will impact the movement of goods across the UK’s borders and, potentially, into stores and homes nationwide,” Mallon said.

A government spokesperson said: “The new border controls are being introduced progressively following extensive consultation with industry and are necessary to protect the UK’s biosecurity from potentially harmful pests and diseases.

“For fresh fruit and vegetables in particular, a temporary easement on imports from the EU, Switzerland and Lichenstein will allow additional time for businesses to adapt to the new requirements, ensuring a smooth supply of goods for consumers.”