Britain Delays Brexit Import Checks to Avert Disruption

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The U.K. government said it will delay imposing post-Brexit checks on imports coming from the European Union in a bid to avert disruption to supplies this summer.

The U.K. won’t require firms to file customs declarations immediately for any imports from the EU until Jan. 1, 2022, instead of July 1 this year, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said in a written statement to Parliament. Border inspections of food products will also be delayed.

“We have listened to businesses who have made a strong case that they need more time to prepare,” Gove said. “We have given strong weight to the disruption which has been caused, and is still being caused, by Covid.”

The postponement prolongs Britain’s hands-off approach to checks on goods coming from the bloc -- its largest trading partner -- since the country completed its split from the EU at the end of 2020. In contrast, the EU imposed full customs controls on the U.K.’s exports to the bloc, causing delays to shipments, lost revenue for businesses, and a decline in freight volumes.

The original April deadline for firms to submit additional paperwork for food products was set to coincide with the re-opening of Britain’s economy from lockdown. The country’s hospitality and logistics sector had warned that the new formalities could lead to product shortages. Instead, firms won’t have to fill in the additional paperwork until October, Gove said.

“Businesses across the food supply chain will breathe a sigh of relief,” said Shane Brennan, chief executive officer of the Cold Chain Federation. “Ensuring shops, restaurants and cafes have the supplies they need will be a vital part of helping them respond to unpredictable customer demand.”

There were also doubts in the freight industry about the U.K.’s readiness to handle inspections of animal products in time for the original July 1 deadline. Those checks won’t come into force until January.

Facilities at Dover and Kent were unlikely to be ready, though the postponement decision is a blow to rival ports such as Tilbury and Humber that have laid concrete and put up steel frames, said Tim Morris, chief executive officer of the U.K. Major Ports Group.

“It was always a challenging timeline,” Morris said. “Whilst pragmatism is largely welcome, we need to talk urgently with government about commitments that have already been made.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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