The UK government has pushed back border checks on EU goods entering Britain by a further six months, after being warned by businesses the country is still not ready to implement them.
While companies have cautioned that Britain’s port infrastructure and customs systems are not ready for the customs and border checks, the government has blamed Covid “disruption” and said the delay will help firms adapt to the changes.
Director of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Andrew Opie said today’s (March 11) announcement has come “in the nick of time” given many of the border posts are “little more than a hole in the ground”.
Without a delay the UK “might otherwise have seen empty shelves for some products”, Opie added, given the checks were due to come into force on April 1.
Companies reliant on EU imports have welcomed the announcement but British exporters are continuing to compete on an unequal basis given their exports to the EU are subject to checks and costly paperwork introduced immediately on January 1, 2021 – checks and expensive redtape that do not, as yet, apply to some goods coming from the EU into Britain.
Gove blames disruption on Covid
Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, said in a statement that disruption caused by the pandemic has “lasted longer and has been deeper than we anticipated”.
He insisted the government is “confident of being ready on time” for the checks to take effect, despite the new delay.
British goods entering the EU have been subject to full custom and border checks since January 1 but goods coming from the EU will continue to be waved through until the measures are implemented.
The new timetable means health certificates for meat, milk and other animal products will not be needed until October while in-person checks on animal products – due in July – will not be performed until January 2022.
Labour says it ‘smacks of ill-preparedness and incompetence’
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jack Dromey said the “chopping and changing” of rules affecting British business and trade “smacks of ill-preparedness and incompetence”.
“They [the government] have had years to prepare for this but can’t stop missing their own deadlines,” said Dromey.”The government need to pull their sleeves up, listen to businesses who have been desperately coming forward with practical solutions, and get this sorted.”
The referendum to leave the EU was in 2016 and the end of the UK’s transition period from the trading block was at 11pm GMT on December 31, 2020. The Brexit deal was finally achieved and signed only days before the transition period ended.
UK violated protocol by extending grace period
Elsewhere, Johnson’s government has been warned by the EU of possible legal action after the UK “violated” agreed protocol arrangements by acting unilaterally to extend the grace period on some checks of goods between GB and NI.
Disputes around the Northern Ireland protocol have been festering for weeks with some politicians accused of stoking tensions over the issue and thereby risking the peace achieved by the Good Friday Agreement.
Last night BBC Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis challenged the DUP’s spokesperson on Brexit, telling Sammy Wilson MP, that his party’s position on the Northern Ireland protocol is “extraordinary”.
DUP’s objections are ‘a bit rich’
Maitlis – who famously interviewed Prince Andrew in 2019 – put it to Wilson that his complaints about trade disruptions between Northern Ireland and Britain are “a bit rich” given how hard the DUP pushed for a hard Brexit.
The DUP provided crucial support for Theresa May’s government between 2017 and 2019 – their 10 MPs ensuring a nominal Conservative majority in the Commons – yet they were vociferous opponents to any deal that saw the UK remaining part of a customs union.
Maitlis said last night (Wednesday): “Sammy, it’s a bit rich isn’t it? You held the balance of power at Westminster in the UK for two years and you constantly voted against the one solution on the table that kept Northern Ireland in Great Britain’s orbit.
“So to turn round and say you don’t like the next thing, when it is your, arguably, political incompetence that got you here, is extraordinary.”
Wilson has called for ‘guerrilla warfare’ against protocol
Wilson replied: “That’s not right – we voted against May’s deal because it did not, first of all, deliver Brexit. It would have kept the United Kingdom in the single market and customs union.”
The MP said May’s proposed deal with a backstop keeping all the UK the customs union, would have been “far worse” for Northern Ireland.
Wilson, described in the Independent as “a firebrand unionist”, is a staunch opponent to the Northern Ireland protocol and has called for “guerrilla warfare” against it, stating: “We will look to see every opportunity there is to attack the protocol to ensure it is destroyed.”