UK confirms plan not to introduce checks on EU goods until 2024

The UK government has decided not to impose customs checks on EU imports until the end of 2023, in a major policy U-turn announced on Thursday. [EFE/ANDY RAIN]

The UK government has decided not to impose customs checks on EU imports until the end of 2023, in a major policy U-turn announced on Thursday (28 April).

In a statement, the UK Cabinet Office said that “it would be wrong to impose new administrative requirements on businesses who may pass on the associated costs to consumers already facing pressures on their finances”.

It added that the effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on supply chains and increasing energy costs was a contributing factor to the decision to delay

The change in approach is expected to save British importers at least £1 billion in annual costs but is effectively an admission of defeat by Boris Johnson’s government.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Brexit opportunities minister, said the government was in discussion with industry to review how best to implement new controls.

“We want the process for importing goods from the EU to be safe, secure and efficient and we want to harness innovative new technologies to streamline processes and reduce frictions,” he added.

The government also wants to encourage EU firms to increase their business with the UK. In 2021, imports from the EU fell by 25% compared to those from elsewhere, according to research published earlier this year by the LSE Centre for Economic Performance.

Meanwhile, the UK in a Changing Europe academic thinktank revealed on Thursday that trade barriers created by Britain’s exit from the EU and the new Trade and Cooperation Agreement with Brussels have added 6% to the cost of food in the UK.

The customs checks supposed to have come into force in July include export health certificates, safety and security declarations, phytosanitary certificates, and physical inspections on certain goods to protect animals, plants, or public health.

The EU immediately introduced customs checks on goods arriving in the single market from the UK at the end of the post Brexit transition period in January 2021. The UK government, however, has repeatedly delayed introducing its own controls on EU goods, in part because of delays in getting its border processes ready.

There is no legal requirement for the UK to impose customs checks on EU imports under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which came into force after the UK left the single market.

However, it means that there is asymmetrical trade between the EU and the UK, since UK exporters will continue to be subject to EU customs requirements. It also means that EU firms will continue to enjoy frictionless trade that UK exporters do not.

Even so, the lengthy new delay is likely to be welcomed by businesses, although many will question why UK exporters will face customs checks.

“Given current economic circumstances it’s sensible to postpone the implementation of import food checks,” said William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce.

“Our research has painted a clear picture that customs checks on goods and increased paperwork have damaged our exports to the EU, particularly from smaller businesses,” he added.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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