After confirming that post-Brexit import checks would be delayed for a fourth time, some of Britain’s largest seaports are considering legal action against the government to recover the cost of building border control posts that they fear will never be used.
Physical testing of fresh food and plants from the EU was scheduled to begin in July but was postponed to the end of 2023, Brexit Opportunity Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg confirmed in a written statement issued Thursday. Instead, he announced plans to digitize all checks and papers at the border, including a new strategy published in the fall.
The decision not to implement the regulation means that Britain will continue to rely on the EU to effectively monitor food and plant security. Food producers say they are being put at a disadvantage compared to European competitors who will have fewer red ribbons to deal with.
The British Ports Association (BPA), a lobby group for the industry, said it was concerned the expensive border post, subsidized by taxpayers with around 200 200 million, might never be used. The group said its members would seek permission to bulldoze new buildings if the government confirmed it was.
BPA chief executive Richard Ballantine said the ports rushed to prepare the infrastructure in a timely manner: “This announcement is a major policy change, meaning that benefits will effectively turn white elephants, wasting millions of pounds of public and private funds.”
Ports have already begun hiring personnel to prepare for additional post-Brexit checks. Meanwhile, the government has spent public money to build internal border control facilities where there is not enough space for infrastructure along the coast.
Although the EU introduced checks on goods from the UK shortly after Brexit, ministers are now aiming for a new border control system by the end of 2023, three years after the end of the Brexit transition period. Checks on meat were scheduled to begin on July 1 and dairy on September 1, with all remaining products, including fish and compound foods, subject to checks from November 1. A date for the control of living creatures has not yet been agreed.
During a tour of Eurotunnel’s Folkestone facilities on Thursday, Rees-Mug admitted that money had been spent on facilities that may no longer be needed.
“I acknowledge that some money was spent on preparations for July 1, which will no longer be required, but the ports will benefit, as they say in the Eurotunnel, due to the ease of flow,” he told the Guardian.
Rees-Mug said the move could save British businesses “up to bn 1bn in annual costs”, although all post-Brexit paperwork and checks already in place would remain in place. He said it would be wrong to impose new checks now during the crisis of life, as it could push up food prices further.
The Eurotunnel operator, which handles a quarter of all trade between the United Kingdom and the European Union, welcomed the announcement.
“We had to check for more credentials, more announcements and we could not board trucks that did not have the proper paperwork to carry 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 struggled with rising costs.
“This is a question of fairness,” said Minette Batters, president of the NFU, calling import controls “important for the country’s biosecurity, animal health and food security.”
“Our producers have to meet stringent restrictions on exporting their own products abroad, although they continue to face competitive advantage over our EU competitors, who are still enjoying an extended grace period that gives them access to valuable UK markets at a relatively low cost and burden. Free, ”he said. “Without them we really put ourselves at risk.”