Some of Britain’s largest seaports are considering legal action against the government to cover the cost of building border checkpoints, which they fear will never be used, after confirming that post-Brexit import controls will be delayed for the fourth time.
Physical inspections of fresh food and plants from the EU were due to begin in July but have been pushed back to the end of 2023, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities, Jacob Rees-Mogg, confirmed in a written statement released on Thursday. Instead, he announced plans to digitize all border control and paperwork with a new strategy announced this fall.
The decision not to implement controls means that the UK will in fact continue to rely on the EU to monitor food and plant safety. Food producers said they were at a disadvantage compared to European competitors, who wanted less bureaucracy to deal with.
The British Ports Association (BPA), an industry lobby group, said it was concerned that the expensive border posts, subsidized by almost £ 200 million from taxpayers, should never be used. The group said its members would ask for permission to bury the new buildings if the government confirmed that this was the case.
Richard Ballantyne, BPA’s CEO, said the ports were in a hurry to get the infrastructure ready on time: “This announcement is a major political change, meaning the facilities will actually become white elephants, wasting millions of pounds of public and private funds “.
Ports had already started hiring staff in preparation for the further post-Brexit checks. Meanwhile, the government spent public money on building inland border control facilities in places where there was not enough space for infrastructure next to the quay.
While the EU introduced controls on goods arriving from the UK immediately after Brexit, ministers are now aiming for a new border control regime towards the end of 2023, three years after the end of the Brexit transition period. The inspection of meat was to start on 1 July and dairy products on 1 September, with all remaining goods, including fish and compound foods, to be inspected from 1 November. A date for control of live animals has not yet been agreed.
During a tour of Eurotunnel’s Folkestone facilities on Thursday, Rees-Mogg admitted that money had been spent on facilities that may now not be needed.
“I accept that some money was spent in preparation for 1 July, which will not be necessary now, but the ports will benefit, as they say at the Eurotunnel, by facilitating the flow,” he told the Guardian.
Rees-Mogg said the move could save UK companies “up to £ 1bn in annual costs”, although all post-Brexit paperwork and checks that have already been put in place will remain in place. He said it would be wrong to introduce new controls now during a cost-of-living crisis as this could drive food prices up further.
The operator of the Eurotunnel, through which a quarter of all trade between the UK and the EU passes, welcomed the announcement.
“We would have had to check more certificates, more declarations and would not have been able to board trucks that did not have the proper paperwork for the goods,” said John Keefe, director of public affairs at Getlink.
However, the National Farmers’ Union called the move “unacceptable” and said it was another blow to British food producers as they struggle with sky-high costs.
“This is a matter of justice,” said NFU President Minette Batters, calling import controls crucial “to the nation’s biosafety, animal health and food security.”
“Our manufacturers have to comply with strict controls in order to export their own products abroad, all the while being put at a continued competitive disadvantage by our EU competitors, who are still benefiting from an extended grace period giving them access to it. valued UK market relatively cost and burden free, “she said. “Without them, we really let ourselves be in danger.”