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On 14th September 2021, the UK Cabinet Office announced a revised timetable that will give businesses more time to adjust to new procedures governing goods arriving in the UK from the EU. These controls will now be phased in during 2022.
Since the UK left the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union on 31st December 2020, in principle, the UK needs to introduce the same controls on incoming goods from the EU as it does on goods arriving from the rest of the world.
In order to ensure a smooth transition in January 2021 however, import checks were not introduced immediately, and were originally planned to be phased in step by step from 1 April and from 1 July 2021. Nevertheless, these planned introduction dates had to be postponed to allow the necessary infrastructures and procedures to be put in place.
In the meantime, the Covid pandemic has complicated the circumstances and businesses and the logistics sector worldwide have continued to suffer disruption to their supply chains. One of the key industries most affected is the agri-food business, where new requirements on importing products of animal origin were then due to be introduced from October 2021. In addition, a systemic shortage of logistics capacity in the UK and other parts of Europe has disrupted commercial supply chains particularly in the food-agri sector, which has in turn led to empty supermarket shelves in some areas of the UK.
Given this combination of adverse factors, the UK Government has taken the pragmatic approach of postponing the implementation dates for border controls until 2022.
In general, full customs declarations and controls will be introduced from 1 January 2022 as previously announced, although safety and security declarations will now not be required until 1 July 2022.
Under the UK’s revised timetable for import controls:
The requirements for pre-notification of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) goods, which were due to be introduced on 1 October 2021, will now be introduced on 1 January 2022.
The new requirements for Export Health Certificates, which were due to be introduced on 1 October 2021, will now be introduced on 1 July 2022.
Phytosanitary Certificates and physical checks on SPS goods at Border Control Posts, due to be introduced on 1 January 2022, will now be introduced on 1 July 2022.
Safety and Security declarations on imports will be required as of 1 July 2022 as opposed to 1 January 2022.
Full customs declarations and controls and the introduction of customs checks will be introduced on 1st January 2022 as previously announced.
What this reveals is that despite the uncertainty created by the inevitable delays, the UK government sees a higher priority in ensuring a smooth transition to the introduction of border controls, rather than in executing the post-Brexit end-point arrangements at maximum speed. That is to say, putting pragmatism over political idealism in the short term in order to achieve a better end result for the affected stakeholders.
As Lord Frost, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office has commented:
“We want businesses to focus on their recovery from the pandemic rather than have to deal with new requirements at the border, which is why we’ve set out a pragmatic new timetable for introducing full border controls. Businesses will now have more time to prepare for these controls which will be phased in throughout 2022.”
Whether this modification to the Brexit implementation program for border controls can be seen as an indication of flexibility in the other outstanding issues which have still to be resolved between the EU and the UK post-Brexit, remains to be seen. This will in any event, be the subject of close scrutiny in the coming months.
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