The UK government has been forced to delay the introduction of import checks by six to nine months, because a network of 30 border posts being built to process incoming goods would not have been ready on time.
Exports to the EU from Britain have been subject to controls since 1 January, but the government decided to opt for a phased approach on EU imports to give hauliers and business more time to adapt.
Checks were due to be introduced in stages from 1 April and from 1 July, but in recent days traders and ports have said they are not ready, and that the introduction of processes as originally planned could lead to empty supermarket shelves.
Several of the inland facilities being built by the government are running behind schedule. The White Cliffs inland site in Kent, where goods arriving at Dover will be checked, is described as a “muddy field”. In addition, the locations of two inland sites in Wales have not yet been announced.
The extension has been welcomed business groups representing the sector.
Sarah Laouadi, Logistics UK European policy manager, commented that this delay will ease the administrative burden on logistics organisations currently working to supply the UK through lockdowns: “Alleviating pressures on the supply chain caused by the current pandemic remains the priority for our sector.”
She added that moving the deadline is providing more time for businesses and authorities to adapt to extra requirements, for example training staff, designing robust business processes to interact with new IT systems and agreeing a new allocation of roles and responsibilities with their supply chain partners.
RHA (Road Haulage Association) chief executive Richard Burnett said: “Mr Gove’s announcement will, of course, lessen the headache for many international hauliers still reeling from the tidal wave of additional red tape that has beset them since the transition period ended on 31 December 2020.
“However, it is not a universal fix: we cannot be confident that operators will even be ready at the end of the extension period on 1 October. The number of skilled customs agents and veterinarians in place across the EU to complete the relevant documentation still falls far short of what’s needed.
“Of course, these measures will help maintain the uninterrupted flow of food products from the EU into Great Britain. However, I am concerned that it weakens the UK Government’s negotiating leverage when asking for similar easements from the EU for UK businesses attempting to trade with them.”
Andrew Opie, at lobby group, the British Retail Consortium, said the postponement had come “in the nick of time” and would “reduce the impact on consumers from 1 April who might otherwise have seen empty shelves for some products”.