Rees-Mogg set to delay post-Brexit fresh food checks for fourth time | Brexit

The UK government is set to announce a fourth delay to physical checks on fresh food imported from the EU amid industry reports that no technology nor infrastructure resources were ready for the July start of the next phase of Brexit.

The Brexit opportunities minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg, is expected to frame the move as use of the UK’s newfound independent powers to control the trade border since the departure from the EU and the single market.

He is also expected to say it is a response to supply chain fears in a trading environment already hit by the Ukraine war and cost of living crisis.

The delays could push back the full implementation of Brexit controls until 2023, sources said, with physical checks removed and a potential relaxation on the requirement for import of products, animals, food and feed system (IPAFFS) paperwork.

Earlier this month an outage in a key post-Brexit IT system, the Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS), combined with the halting of P&O ferry routes, led to long delays for freight traffic trying to cross the Channel.

Industry sources said small suppliers in the EU were not prepared for physical border checks or capable of getting the veterinary certificates that would be required on fresh food ranging from artisan cheese to olive oil and dried meats from countries such as Spain and Italy.

“EU suppliers are going to be hit in exactly the same way as British fish and food suppliers were last year. The difference here is that the UK has no way of helping the EU suppliers,” said one industry representative.

Another said: “This is good news as far as we are concerned. They have obviously had problems with GVMS in general and they don’t want egg on their faces.”

Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks have been operational in all EU countries with which the UK shares a border, including France, Belgium and Ireland, since the Brexit withdrawal agreement was implemented on 1 January 2021.

The cliff-edge approach left exporters of fish and other fresh food in chaos with a lack of customs agents and veterinary staff to certify whether the produce complied with EU standards. But in the UK post-Brexit checks on fresh food were not implemented for imports, being pushed back in 2020 and on two occasions in 2021.

Under the current border plan, physical checks on meat were due to start on 1 July and on dairy on 1 September, with all remaining foods including fish and composite foods to be subject to checks from 1 November.

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