Import checks on plant and animal products arriving from EU delayed for fifth time amid concerns that red tape will push up inflation

Post-Brexit border controls on plant and animal products arriving in the UK from the EU have been delayed once again due to concerns that added bureaucracy will further fuel inflation.

It is the fifth time that checks on fresh produce entering from the EU have been delayed. The news, first reported by the Financial Times, is likely to be met with opposition from UK food producers.

British exports to the EU have been subject to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks since January 2021, causing the NFU and others to accuse the Government of creating an unlevel playing field.

According to the FT, there are fears that extra red tape would increase the cost of food imports and lead to further inflation.

The Guardian added that the delay is intended to give the Government as well as EU exporters more time to prepare for the checks.

Ministers announced in April that a new ’Border Target Operating Model’ would be rolled out from 31 October, with a full regime put in place by October 2024. However, the FPC’s Nigel Jenney has expressed major concerns about the plans.

The checks that were due to be introduced in October 2023 were set to involve paperwork known as “pre-certification”. This would alert authorities that food products had arrived with public health compliance requirements.

According to reports, these checks are now expected to be pushed back to the end of January when the physical SPS checks are due to come into force. However, the FT reported that a revised timetable has not yet been signed off by ministers.

Industry bodies warned last June that plans to charge a flat-rate inspection fee of up to £43 on each consignment of food entering from the EU would inevitably drive up food prices. The Government estimated that this would amount to total extra costs of £420m per year.

Despite the impact on domestic food producers, some industry representatives have backed the Government’s decision to delay the checks.

“The Government has made the right decision to postpone,” said Shane Brennan, the chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation. “UK food retailers, hospitality businesses and consumers were in line for major disruption because many EU food-producing businesses supplying into the UK are not ready for the new requirements.”

Meanwhile, the NFU’s director of trade Nick von Westenholz acknowledged that the Government had a duty to protect consumers from inflation, but said many British farmers would be left exasperated.

“We need proportionate, light-touch checks in place that can both keep costs for importers to a minimum while properly managing biosecurity risks,” he told the FT.

“Government must quickly set out a clear and concrete timetable for the new import regime, so we have a level playing field for UK growers and producers.”