Physical checks on meat and dairy products imported from the EU will not begin until April 2024 after the UK government confirmed a further delay to its post-Brexit border regime.
A draft border target operating model (BTOM) published in April stated that health certificates on meat and dairy products signed by a vet would need to accompany imports from October this year with physical border checks on medium and high-risk foods following in January 2024.
However the timeline for both stages of the new model has now been delayed by a further three months – the fifth time a new customs regime has faced delays since the UK left the EU.
UK businesses exporting to the EU have faced charges and checks at the border since the UK officially left the bloc at the start of 2021, prompting accusations of unfairness.
Anxiety had been spreading among businesses that not only would the new UK regime add cost to imports, through charges for things like certification, processing and inspection, but practical details remained elusive with just weeks to go before the planned launch date.
The government said the estimated impact of the BTOM on food inflation is expected to be “minor, standing at less than 0.2% across three years”. It said the new regime would better protect the UK against biosecurity threats and create a world-class border system, adding that it had listened to the views of industry in agreeing a further delay.
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) said the new system presented both concerns and opportunities. While the model brings with it “the promise of a world-class border system”, CIEH said there remains ambiguity about the future charging mechanism for physical checks on products of animal origin, arguing that that fees and charges should be set at the local level to account for the unique requirements and resources of individual regions.
It also emphasised the pressing need for clarity in the risk categorisation of goods, specifically the distinction between high, medium, and low-risk goods.
“While we wholeheartedly support innovations that streamline trade and enhance security, it's essential that such schemes are not introduced at the expense of rigorous safety and public health controls," said Louise Hosking, executive director of environmental health at CIEH.