U.K. Firms Decry Unfair Brexit Border as EU Goods Waved In

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The U.K.’s decision to postpone border checks on goods coming from the European Union until next year has delighted the country’s importers -- but left some exporters angry.

Take Steve Howell’s Foodlynx. The firm, which sells British bacon and sausages to hotels and resorts across the EU, has suffered weeks-long delays to shipments since Brexit and spent thousands of pounds on customs fees. After the government’s move on Thursday, EU firms will be able to sell their goods into Britain unimpeded until January.

“My reaction is absolute dismay,” said Howell, whose products are mostly gobbled up by British expats and holidaymakers. “I can’t believe they could be so stupid to kill U.K. exports, but allow free rein into our country from the EU.”

Britain’s one-sided Brexit border is coming under increasing criticism from industry, with business figures saying it gives EU firms a leg up over U.K.-based exporters, which have had to grapple with the full range of EU customs controls since Jan. 1. Exports to the EU fell almost 41% in January from a month earlier, the Office for National Statistics said on Friday.

Richard Burnett, head of the Road Haulage Association, said postponing import controls also risks weakening the U.K.’s negotiating leverage when asking for similar easements from the EU.

Almost three-fourths of British manufacturers have suffered Brexit-related delays when moving goods in the past three months, and more than half have seen an increase in costs, according to a survey of 213 companies by MakeUK, the U.K.’s largest manufacturing lobby group.

“Postponing import checks hands a cost and administration advantage to foreign businesses,” said James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East England Chamber of Commerce. “The damage to our economy is of real concern.”

David Frost, who negotiated the Brexit trade deal with the EU and is now the minister in charge of the U.K.’s relations with the bloc, said the delay will “give traders time to focus on getting back on their feet.”

“We are confident that this new timetable will allow import businesses to re-establish their trading arrangements after a difficult period due to coronavirus, in the most straightforward and lightest touch way possible,” he said in a statement.

The government’s move to postpone the checks came amid fears that the extra border processes would disrupt U.K. supply chains this summer as the economy re-opens from lockdown. Under the original plans, food imports would have needed extra paperwork from April, and physical inspections of shipments would have started in July.

Food exports to the EU from Britain have been one of the parts of the economy worst-hit by Brexit, with all products of animal origin requiring health certificates issued by a qualified vet to cross the border.

The Cold Chain Federation, which represents businesses which move chilled and frozen food, said the situation creates an “ongoing unfairness” between U.K. and EU firms.

U.K. exporters “continue to face a hard border with all its costs and uncertainties and see their equivalents continuing to benefit from de-facto unfettered access to their domestic market,” said Shane Brennan, the lobby group’s chief executive. “It’s not clear how this action will give the EU an incentive to be more willing to discuss ways to reduce the burdens on U.K. exporters.”

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