Brexit-related checks on goods going from Ireland and the rest of the EU to Britain are set to be delayed for the fourth time by the UK.
Jacob Rees Mogg, the recently appointed minister for Brexit opportunities, is understood to be leading the push to delay. He cites the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on a variety of supply chains as the main reason not to impose checks on agrifood products entering Britain from the EU.
“At a time of high and rising inflation and supply-chain difficulties, we should not introduce burdensome checks that will impose costs on ourselves, on businesses and consumers,” a spokesperson for Rees Mogg said earlier this week.
The customs checks intended to 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.
If cross border passenger volumes recover as expected during 2022, “there is potential for disruption at the border”. These disruptions risk being exacerbated by “further checks at ports as part of the EU’s new Entry and Exit system” and especially at ports like Dover, where EU officials carry out border inspections on the UK side.
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. However, the UK government has repeatedly delayed introducing its own controls on EU goods.
The government has said that it intends to introduce the checks in phases between January and November this year.
London has no legal requirement to scrap the grace periods for customs checks on EU imports. Still, it would amount to a significant admission of defeat by Boris Johnson’s government since UK exporters will continue to be subject to EU customs requirements.
“While this would provide temporary relief to businesses already hammered by existing Brexit red tape and import costs, it’s another kick in the teeth to those companies who’ve spent over a year navigating mountains of complicated paperwork to meet requirements yet to be put in place,” said Drew Henry, the international trade spokesperson for the Scottish National Party.
“As it stands, many companies are destined to remain endlessly floating in some post-Brexit limbo,” he added.
Since the UK left the EU, businesses have reported that the most significant new burdens have been caused by extra paperwork generated by the Northern Ireland protocol, VAT requirements, customs checks and rule of origin requirements.
Johnson’s government has previously promised that the UK will have the “world’s most effective border by 2025”. However, its plans to overhaul border processes have also been subject to repeated delays over the past two years.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]