Brexit controls on food and animal products that were due to come into effect in January are being postponed until July 2022 because of the potential impact on businesses, the British government has announced.
It is also delaying paperwork required from 1 October for imports of food and animal products including dairy, eggs, honey and composite products such as lasagne and pepperoni pizza.
Despite pleas from the National Farmers’ Union and the Food and Drink Federation that such postponement would give European exporters a commercial advantage over British firms, the government decided it had no choice because of “pressures on global supply chains”.
In a written ministerial statement, Penny Mordaunt, the paymaster general, said: “The pandemic has had longer-lasting impacts on businesses, both in the UK and in the European Union, than many observers expected in March.
“There are also pressures on global supply chains, caused by a wide range of factors including the pandemic and the increased costs of global freight transport. These pressures are being especially felt in the agrifood sector.
“In these circumstances, the government has decided to delay further some elements of the new controls, especially those relating to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) goods.”
The move means Britain has been given a de facto transition period to bed in the controls agreed under the Brexit deal with the EU.
Signs that the government might have to delay the physical checks on food and animal products coming in from the EU emerged in the summer when the officials told angry residents in Dover that plans for a giant lorry park for HMRC and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks had been radically downsized and would not be ready until July 2022.
The government’s lack of planning for Brexit meant the necessary infrastructure involving border control posts in key ferry ports including Holyhead, Pembrokeshire and Dover has yet to be built.
Monday’s announcement confirmed that “pre-notification of agri-food imports” to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which were due to come into force on 1 October, would be put back to January.
New requirements for export health certificates also due to come in on 1 October would be delayed by nine months until 1 July 2022 while the SPS checks due on 1 January would be delayed by six months until 1 July 2022.
Business leaders including the NFU said delaying the new trade barriers would not solve the food shortages in the supermarkets as this was the result of a chronic lack of lorry drivers.
The Food and Drink Federation said all the big supermarkets importing fruit and vegetables from the continent were already prepared for the paperwork.