UK ports consider legal action after Rees-Mogg delays Brexit controls

Companies fear millions wasted on hurriedly built infrastructure as minister delays import checks for fourth time

Some of Britain’s biggest seaports are considering legal action against the government to recover the costs of building border control posts they fear will never be used, after confirmation that post-Brexit import checks will be delayed for a fourth time.

Physical checks on fresh food and plants from the EU were due to begin in July but have been pushed back to the end of 2023, the Brexit opportunities minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg, confirmed in a written statement published on Thursday. Instead, he announced plans to digitise all checks and paperwork at the border, with a new strategy published in the autumn.

The decision not to implement controls means Britain will effectively continue to rely on the EU to monitor food and plant safety. Food producers said they were being placed at a disadvantage compared with European competitors who would have less red tape to deal with.

The British Ports Association (BPA), a lobby group for the industry, said it was concerned the expensive border posts, subsidised with nearly £200m from the taxpayer, may never be used. The group said its members would ask for permission to bulldoze the new buildings if the government confirmed this was the case.

Richard Ballantyne, the BPA’s chief executive, said ports had rushed to get infrastructure ready on time: “This announcement is a major policy change, meaning the facilities will effectively become white elephants, wasting millions of pounds of public and private funding”.

Ports had already begun hiring staff in preparation for the additional post-Brexit checks. Meanwhile, the government spent public money building inland border control facilities at sites where there was not enough space for infrastructure next to the quay.

While the EU introduced checks on goods arriving from the UK immediately after Brexit, ministers are now targeting the end of 2023 for a new border control regime, three years after the end of the Brexit transition period. Checks on meat were due to start on 1 July and on dairy on 1 September, with all remaining goods including fish and composite foods to be subject to checks from 1 November. A date for controls on live animals has yet to be agreed.

During a tour of Eurotunnel’s Folkestone facilities on Thursday, Rees-Mogg conceded money had been spent on facilities that now may not be needed.

“I do accept that some money was spent in preparation for 1st July which won’t now be needed, but the ports will benefit, as they are saying at Eurotunnel, from the easing of flow,” he told the Guardian.

Rees-Mogg said the move could save British businesses “up to £1bn in annual costs”, although all post-Brexit paperwork and checks that have already been introduced will remain in place. He said it would be wrong to impose new checks now, during a cost of living crisis, as this could drive up food prices further.

The operator of Eurotunnel, through which a quarter of all trade between the UK and EU passes, welcomed the announcement.

“We would have had to check more certificates, more declarations, and would not have been able to board trucks which didn’t have the right paperwork to go with the goods,” said John Keefe, director of public affairs at Getlink.

Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk

However, the National Farmers’ Union called the move “unacceptable” and said it was another blow for British food producers, as they grapple with soaring costs.

“This is a question of fairness,” said NFU’s president, Minette Batters, calling import controls crucial “to the nation’s biosecurity, animal health and food safety”.

“Our producers have to meet stringent controls to export their own products abroad, all while being left at a continued competitive disadvantage to our EU competitors, who are still enjoying an extended grace period which gives them access to the prized UK market relatively cost and burden free,” she said. “Without them we really do leave ourselves at risk.”


Joanna Partridge and Jasper Jolly

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I was wrong to say Brexit would not cause Dover delays
Minister blames France for recent problems and suggests Britons might go to Portugal instead

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

02, Aug, 2022 @8:48 AM

Article image
'The votes are now there' for Brexit deal, says Jacob Rees-Mogg
Commons leader claims MPs will back deal even though PM is yet to get agreement with EU

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

15, Oct, 2019 @7:08 PM

Article image
Companies press Brexit panic button in further blow to Theresa May
P&O opts for Cypriot flag, Sony confirms HQ move and Pets at Home stockpiles cat food

Rupert Neate

22, Jan, 2019 @8:32 PM

Article image
Jacob Rees-Mogg sends letter of no confidence in May
Key Brexiter says he has written to chair of 1922 Committee, in move that could lead to Tory leadership challenge

Heather Stewart and Jessica Elgot

15, Nov, 2018 @3:33 PM

Article image
Rees-Mogg set to delay post-Brexit fresh food checks for fourth time
Minister expected to frame move as a use of UK’s independent powers despite industry reports of unreadiness

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

28, Apr, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Jacob Rees-Mogg hosts champagne party after May Brexit defeat
ERG chair invited ‘relieved’ Brexiter MPs home for drinks after May’s historic defeat

Rajeev Syal

16, Jan, 2019 @5:03 PM

Article image
Honda says production at UK factory to pause due to car parts shortage
Swindon plant affected by British ports chaos amid Brexit stockpiling and Covid restrictions

Lisa O'Carroll and Zoe Wood

09, Dec, 2020 @12:12 AM

Article image
Jacob Rees-Mogg: hard Brexit would boost UK by £135bn over five years
Pro-Brexit backbencher says dividend only possible with policy of free trade, reduced regulation and lower taxes

Peter Walker Political correspondent

14, Nov, 2017 @2:35 PM

Article image
Dear Jacob Rees-Mogg, let me help you conjure up some Brexit opportunities | Michael Heseltine
As our worsening predicament becomes clear, you need people who will tell it as it is – you’re clearly struggling to find them, says former Conservative deputy PM Michael Heseltine

Michael Heseltine

03, Mar, 2022 @11:47 AM

Article image
Have people inspected at Irish border after Brexit, says Rees-Mogg
Critics deride suggestion of return to arrangements ‘as we had during the Troubles’

Heather Stewart Political editor

26, Aug, 2018 @11:29 AM