New post-Brexit checks on goods entering the UK risk causing shortages and pushing up prices in the shops, the Government has been warned.
Ministers have promised to introduce a streamlined version of the customs and regulatory controls required by Britain’s trade deal with the EU, claiming that the new regime coming in from October will minimise disruption for businesses.
Checks will take place away from the actual border as much as possible – although new lorry parks will open in Kent next year to handle the large number of goods coming through Dover and the Channel Tunnel.
The new system will apply to all goods imports and is intended to simplify the checks on non-EU goods as well as providing the lightest possible burden for EU goods, which until now have not been subject to inspections.
Shane Brennan of the Cold Chain Federation – which represents businesses in the chilled goods supply chain – said: “Overall, exporting products such as meat and dairy from the EU into the UK will be more expensive, slower and more complicated.
“We have to expect that many EU based food exporters will take one look at these proposals and decide to cease supplying UK customers. As the recent tomato shortages have shown, food suppliers have plenty of options to sell elsewhere.”
The British Chambers of Commerce praised the proposal to introduce digital rather than paper-based checks but added: “It is vital that companies, here and across the world, involved in sourcing and supply chains, are properly prepared for these changes and the introduction of new trusted trader arrangements.”
The introduction of the post-Brexit inspections had previously been delayed four times to avoid disrupting business. They will now begin in October but will not be fully implemented until late 2024.
Richard Benyon, the minister for biosecurity, said: “It is vital that we have strong border controls in place. Invasive diseases could cost our farms and businesses billions of pounds, threaten our food safety and break confidence in UK exports around the world. That is why we are working hand in glove with businesses to devise a strong system that works for the nation.”
British ports have seen intermittent periods of major disruption since Brexit, partly due to the time taken to stamp the passports of British travellers as they go through French border controls. Fears have been expressed that the introduction of the full goods checks would add to the pressure on ports.
As well as the new regime for goods, the UK will implement a new Electronic Travel Authorisation for foreign visitors, starting from later this year, which will require incoming travellers to sign up for permission to enter the country. The Government insists the system will reduce friction at the borders.