The government will announce a fourth delay to post-Brexit checks on fresh food imported from the European Union, reports suggest.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Brexit opportunities minister, is expected to frame the postponement as evidence of the UK’s newfound independent power to control the trade border since it cut ties with Brussels.
He is also expected to say that the delay is a response to supply chain fairs in a trading environment already battered by the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis.
According to the Guardian, the latest delays could push back the full implementation of Brexit controls until 2023 – with physical checks removed and a relaxation on the requirement for import of products, animals, food and feed system paperwork.
The newspaper cited industry fears that small suppliers in the EU were unprepared for physical border checks – and would not be capable of getting the veterinary certificates required on fresh food like artisan cheese and dried meats from countries like Spain and Italy.
“EU suppliers are going to be hit in exactly the same way as British fish and food suppliers were last year. The difference here is that the UK has no way of helping the EU suppliers,” one industry representative said.
Another added: “This is good news as far as we are concerned. They have obviously had problems with GVMS in general and they don’t want egg on their faces.”
Checks have been operational in all EU countries with which the UK shares a border, including France, Belgium and Ireland, since the Brexit withdrawal agreement was implemented on 1 January 2021.
But in the UK, checks on fresh food were not instigated for imports – instead being pushed back in 2020 and twice in 2021.
Physical checks on meat were due to start on 1 July and on diary on 1 September, with all remaining foods – including fish – subjected to checks from 1 November.
It comes as a former top civil servant has attacked the UK’s handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Dr Andrew McCormick, a Stormont official who played a central role as the UK negotiated the Brexit deal, said that responsibility for the Northern Ireland Protocol lies “fairly and squarely” with Boris Johnson and his ministers.
In an article for The Constitution Society, the former civil servant says that the UK government understood the consequences of the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.
“It is hard to imagine anything (other than Brexit itself) with greater democratic legitimacy under the UK constitution than something that was the very centre of the manifesto on which a government secured a clear majority in a general election,” Dr McCormick said.
“There is little credibility in any argument that the UK government either did not anticipate the implications of what it had agreed, or was constrained and unable to choose any other option.”