Boris Johnson has been accused of boosting European competitors as the Government on Tuesday confirmed new border checks will not be fully implemented until mid-2022.
British exporters hit out at ministers after Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, announced the deadline for implementing checks on EU agrifoods and products of animal origin entering the UK from the bloc would be delayed again.
It is the second delay to the new border regime, which was also pushed back by six months in March, despite UK exporters to the EU being hit with post-Brexit red tape from January this year.
The decision was taken after leading businesses reliant on European imports warned that additional red tape risked exacerbating the UK’s supply chain crisis in the run up to Christmas.
But it also means that EU firms will continue to enjoy a lighter-touch customs regime up to 18 months after the UK left the bloc, which critics argue will prolong the “competitive disadvantage” faced by their British competitors exporting the other way.
In a written ministerial statement, Lord Frost said the Government had been “on track” to have the infrastructure and personnel ready at ports and border posts, but argued the move was necessary to ease pressure on UK businesses.
“The pandemic has had longer-lasting impacts on businesses, both in the UK and in the European Union, than many observers expected in March,” he added.
“There are also pressures on global supply chains, caused by a wide range of factors including the pandemic and the increased costs of global freight transport. These pressures are being especially felt in the agrifood sector.”
As a result, additional paperwork requirements for EU agrifood imports, due to commence in three weeks' time, will be pushed back to Jan 2022, while new export certificates will be pushed back further until July.
The full raft of physical checks on EU agrifoods at border control posts, due in January, will also be pushed back to July, although some customs controls and checks will be implemented as planned.
On Tuesday night, the British Chambers of Commerce said the delay would ensure an “orderly transition that does not unduly disrupt trade”, while the Confederation of British Industry said it would “relieve pressure on supply chains”.
However, Ian Wright, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, argued that many British food and drink manufacturers had “invested very significant time and money in preparing for the new import regime”.
“The repeated failure to implement full UK border controls on EU imports since 1 Jan 2021 undermines trust and confidence among businesses,” he added.
“Worse, it actually helps the UK’s competitors. The asymmetric nature of border controls facing exports and imports distorts the market and places many UK producers at a competitive disadvantage with EU producers.”
Minette Batters, the head of the National Farmers Union, said: “While our exporters have been struggling with additional costs and burdens, EU competitors have been given extended grace periods by our own Government to maintain access to the UK market relatively burden free.
“A delay to controls on EU imported products will do little to address supply chain problems, nor the long-term trade frictions farmers are experiencing.
“Negotiators must seek to achieve a level-playing field with pragmatic and equitable checks on imports and exports as quickly as possible.”