Further delays on border controls at UK ports caused by Brexit have led to some of the country’s biggest ports threatening to sue the Government.
According to the Guardian newspaper, they are considering legal action to recover the costs of building border control posts they fear will never be used, after confirmation that post-Brexit import checks will be delayed for the fourth time.
Brexit Opportunities Minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg, announced that after being delayed three times, physical checks on fresh food and plants from the EU, which were due to begin in July, have been pushed back to the end of 2023.
New strategy in the autumn
According to the news website, he announced plans to digitise all checks and paperwork at the border, with a new strategy published in the autumn.
The decision means that the UK will effectively continue to rely on the EU to monitor food and plant safety. Food producers said they were being placed at a disadvantage compared with European competitors who would have less red tape to deal with.
The British Ports Association (BPA), a lobby group for the industry, said it was concerned the expensive border posts, subsidised with nearly £200m from the taxpayer, may never be used.
‘White elephants’ claim
Richard Ballantyne, the BPA’s Chief Executive, said ports had rushed to get infrastructure ready on time: “This announcement is a major policy change, meaning the facilities will effectively become white elephants, wasting millions of pounds of public and private funding”.
Checks on meat were due to start on 1 July and on dairy on 1 September, with all remaining goods including fish and composite foods to be subject to checks from 1 November. A date for controls on live animals has yet to be agreed.
The operator of Eurotunnel, through which a quarter of all trade between the UK and EU passes, welcomed the announcement.
‘Question of fairness’
“We would have had to check more certificates, more declarations, and would not have been able to board trucks which didn’t have the right paperwork to go with 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 for British food producers, as they grapple with soaring costs.
“This is a question of fairness,” said NFU’s President, Minette Batters, calling import controls crucial “to the nation’s biosecurity, animal health and food safety”.
The British Veterinary Association also criticised the move, saying it “flies in the face not only of common sense, but also of the government’s commitment to preserving high levels of animal and human health in the UK”.
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