Lorries queuing in Kent Operation Stack

UK government ministers are preparing to relax post-Brexit plans for border checks on food imports from the European Union because of fears that they will further damage trade and could lead to severe shortages in UK supermarkets, reports The Observer.

The newspaper was this weekend told by industry sources that Boris Johnson’s new Brexit minister, Lord Frost, is considering allowing “lighter touch” controls on imports from 1 April than are currently planned, and scaling back plans for full customs checks, including physical inspections, which are due to begin on 1 July.

One source said he had been told that Frost was preparing to put the plans, which could mean imports being allowed in even if clerical errors have been made by European companies, before fellow cabinet ministers this week, as evidence grows of how Brexit has hit trade with the EU.

The paper said a Downing Street source confirmed on Saturday night (6 March) that Frost had already ordered “a review of the timetable to ensure that we are not imposing unnecessary burdens on business” but added that it was “early in the process and no decisions have been made”.

Senior figures in Whitehall fear that EU exporters to the UK – particularly those involved with food – could be even less prepared than their UK counterparts were at the start of this year, the paper said. A big worry is that delays resulting from checks could hit food supplies including the “just in time” delivery network.

One senior industry figure told The Observer: “The worry is that if we go ahead with more checks and move to checks on imports, then exporters will not be prepared and on this side we are not ready for that either. There is not the infrastructure in place yet or the number of customs officials necessary to carry all this out. We have already seen exports badly affected. The next nightmare could be imports.”