The decision to rethink the introduction of post-Brexit import checks on goods arriving from the EU, originally scheduled to be introduced in July 2022, was with mixed reactions from the freight and logistics sector.
The Government said Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the recent rise in global energy costs have had a significant effect on supply chains and it would be wrong to impose new administrative requirements on businesses still recovering for the pandemic.
The Government will not impose physical sanitary checks on agri-food (animals, animal products, plants and plant products) imports to Great Britain from the EU, due to have started on 1 July. However, the controls introduced in January 2021 on the highest risk imports of animals, animal products, plants and plant products will continue to apply alongside the customs controls which have already been introduced.
A new Target Operating Model, based on “a better assessment of risk” that will “harness the power of data and technology” will be published in the Autumn and the new controls regime will come into force at the end of 2023.
Minister for Brexit Opportunities, Jacob Rees-Mogg said the decision will allow British businesses to "focus on their recovery from the pandemic, navigate global supply chain issues and ensure that new costs are not passed on to consumers".
He added: “It’s vital that we have the right import controls regime in place, so we’ll now be working with industry to review these remaining controls so that they best suit the UK’s own interests.”
Director General of the Institute of Export & International Trade, Marco Forgione, said that “given the pressures on businesses and families at this time, we understand why the government has taken the step of moving the implementation of these checks into 2023.
He added: “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. The Institute will continue to keep traders informed and up-to-date with the latest information and guidance.”
Michael Schymik, International Director of chilled food distributor STEF Langdon said: “The current paper-based SPS processes and procedures are unsuitable in a 21st century digital world. This change in policy towards a smarter digital border by the UK Government will allow the free flow of safe food products into Great Britain."
Also welcoming the move, John Keefe, Director of Public Affairs at Eurotunnel said: “Eurotunnel supports this decision which will keep goods flowing seamlessly into the UK. It is good for traders as it reduces import declaration paperwork on food and perishables.
“It is good for transporters as it increases fluidity at the border and it is good for consumers as it keeps the cost of living down."
However, the decision to move checks into 2023 has angered ports which have spent millions building new facilities to inspect goods.
Tim Morris, CEO of the UK Major Ports Group said: “Many ports have been working incredibly hard and have invested over £100 million of their own money to build a network of brand new border checks to meet the requirements the Government has been insisting on for several years.
“This now looks like wasted time, effort, and money to develop what we fear will be highly bespoke white elephants. Government needs to engage urgently with ports to agree how the substantial investments made in good faith can be recovered. We will of course be working closely with the Government on its new vision of a slimmer and smaller regime of border checks.”
The British Ports Association (BPA), which represents the interests of more than 400 ports, said ports that have invested in infrastructure “will be left to pick up the pieces” and the industry “will be pressing government for compensation immediately”.
Commenting Richard Ballantyne, BPA’s Chief Executive, said:“This is quite an amazing development to say the least! Many UK port operators have built Border Control Posts in preparation for post Brexit checks and all were due to be ready. This announcement is a major policy change, meaning the facilities will effectively become white elephants, wasting millions of pounds of public and private funding, not to mention the huge effort there has been to get things ready in time.
“Most ports will need to recoup some of their construction and operating costs for their infrastructure and this is traditionally done through levying a charge on importers. Ports have been recruiting staff to operate the facilities but now this needs to stop.
“We are therefore urgently seeking clarification from policy makers if there will be any type of financial assistance or compensation for ports and also if operators can start to bulldozer the facilities and use the sites for other purposes.”
Speaking before the latest delay was confirmed Robert Keen, Director General of the British International Freight Association (BIFA) said: “Over the last several years, BIFA has queried the robustness of government policies and primary legislation; and criticised procedures and guidance, which often do not reflect the reality of trade flows.
“To hear that the goalposts may move once again, is another kick in the face to those BIFA members that have made huge investments in staff and resources to meet the deadlines established by the Border Operating Model.
“Each change of direction, or postponement, makes it difficult for them to justify that investment, or take any notice of BIFA’s advice and encouragement to make the necessary preparations.
“BIFA members have demonstrated their commitment to provide logistics support for a significant amount of the trade between the EU and UK, despite often seeing policies being introduced with no consultation and little regard for how trade works in reality.”
The forwarder business group also said that since the Border Protocol Delivery Group has ceased coordinating EU Exit preparations, it has become increasingly concerned at the apparent lack of a cohesive approach from central government to planning and managing frontier processes.
Sarah Laouadi, Logistics UK’s Head of International Policy, said businesses need stability, clarity and certainty which constant delays and changes to the nature of future post-Brexit checks do not deliver.
She added: “While we understand the gGovernment’s reasoning behind the decision today – aligning the checks with its 2025 Border Strategy to maximise optimisation and simplification of the new processes – it should not have taken years of wavering on the nature of checks for these goods and changing deadlines for their implementation.
“The Government’s wavering approach comes at the cost of logistics businesses who have invested time and money preparing for the introduction of checks – that were postponed four times over the years – before the decision to take a different approach was reached today.”
“Logistics UK is urging the government to make a clear – and final – commitment to a process and a deadline and ensure the necessary facilities, staff and processes are in place and ready to cope with the volume and patterns of trade by that deadline. Logistics UK stands ready to commit its expertise to help design a revised action plan and timetable that will not have to be shifted again.
“Going forward, we need to see closer monitoring of progress towards readiness for the Government’s new approach, with review points, intermediary milestones and an alert system that triggers the allocation of extra government resources when a work package appears not to be on track. Logistics businesses are resilient and flexible; they stand ready to keep goods moving to and from the UK but need certainty to continue to trade effectively with the EU in the future.”
Haulier group RHA said the delay is a major shift in mindset by the Government. Duncan Buchanan Director of Policy, England and Wales, said: ”It is focusing on what is needed for the border rather than replicating systems from the last century. It is disappointing that so many will have wasted so much effort and resource to comply with the new rules and processes that were being demanded.
“It will take a little while to digest the full implication of this. It is the “what’s next” that will be vital for all to work on in industry and across Government.”
Executive director for the RHA, Rod McKenzie, has previous outlined how the situation can be resolved with a “light touch” approach between the UK and the EU on current and future checks.