Border delays ‘could cause fresh food problems’

Post-Brexit transition border checks could cause fresh food supply problems, an industry body has warned.

Shoppers will notice the supply issues next January unless there is a “massive upgrade” in border facilities, the British Retail Consortium said.

The warning came after cabinet minister Michael Gove said that border checks are “inevitable” after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.

Officials said firms have enough time to prepare for the changes.

Food availability

Border checks could quickly cause hold-ups at Channel ports of thousands of trucks, including those carrying fresh food, the BRC said.

The government will have to “move fast” to put in place the necessary border infrastructure and staff to cope with those checks by the end of the year, it said.

If it doesn’t, “consumers in the UK will see significant disruption, particularly in the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables” the BRC’s director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie warned.

“If you think this is going to hit us in January, that’s our peak import season for things like fresh fruit and vegetables. Customers are really going to see the problems on supermarket shelves unless we get that infrastructure,” he said.

“So, you’ve got enormous bureaucracy, enormous change, but crucially you’ve got a problem with the infrastructure at the key ports around the Channel, which currently really act as an extension of the motorway for our supply chain, where you will be holding thousands of vehicles every day.”

“I don’t know if you’ve been to Dover recently, but there isn’t an enormous amount of room to hold that infrastructure,” he added.

‘Inevitable’ border checks

The warning came after Mr Gove told a Border Delivery Group event on Monday: “The UK will be outside the single market and outside the customs union, so we will have to be ready for the customs procedures and regulatory checks that will inevitably follow.”

The Brexit transition period is due to end at 11pm on 31 December this year.

From then, there will be import checks at the UK border, and traders in the EU and UK will have extra paperwork, the government said.

From next January, all traders will have to fill out customs declarations and be liable to customs checks on goods for cross-channel trade.

If no trade deal is reached with the EU, taxes such as tariffs will also need to be charged and collected.

Facilities such as the Channel Tunnel have been designed for minimal border checks.

New customs infrastructure, facilities and systems as well as staff, agents and vets will have to be in place by the end of this year.

But Mr Gove told the conference there would be light touch administration of trade across the Irish Sea.

However, last week it emerged that Stena Line, the biggest operator of ferries in the Irish Sea, is preparing for trade checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.