Brexit isn’t Done Yet

We could have been forgiven for thinking Brexit was done when the UK left the EU at the very end of 2020. However, for retailers the real challenge of Brexit is likely to be felt in early 2022 when border controls are finally introduced for the UK.

Unlike the EU who introduced border checks as soon as the UK left our Government decided to delay them and further postpone them, which means European food suppliers have been able export into the UK pretty much as usual for the last 9 months. That is about to change and it is crucial retailers and their European suppliers plan for the new processes and appreciate there may be some issues beyond their control.

First to face checks will be European exporters of meat and dairy products who will need health certificates from 1 October. They will need to ensure they are ready to fill out the certificates, which need to be signed by a vet. The certificates are issued by Government offices in the EU country which are not always open 24/7 and could, potentially hold up dispatch. Finally they need to pre-notify the UK port of entry at least 4 hours in advance of arrival.

The UK Government has provided resources, including webinars and guidance, to help European suppliers prepare for these changes but it is really important you check your own supply chain. Are the suppliers ensuring they have resources in place to sign off certificates, how accommodating are their own Government offices and what extra time do they need to build into deliveries?   

One good thing is there will be no physical checks in October, suppliers will simply need to lodge the export certificates They will be notified by UK officials if there are errors, although products won’t be stopped at the border. So this is an ideal period before January for retailers to ensure suppliers have ironed out problems in preparing certificates and can review supply chains to account for the added time for new processes. However, that requires a close working relationship with suppliers where they are prepared to share challenges and failures on their part.

The biggest challenge will come in January 2022, right in the middle of peak imports of fresh produce from Europe. Physical checks at the ports will bring bigger challenges, particularly as food imports are subject to some of the most stringent checks. Firstly, the paperwork will need to be correct to avoid holding up entry and causing delays to delivery, as was the case in France in January when the EU closed its borders. Secondly, border crossings are likely to take longer for all imports as hauliers adapt to new systems creating inevitable delays. Added to that, key ports for imports such as Dover and the Welsh ports are unlikely to have permanent facilities ready for January to hold lorries for checks.

The Government is planning to publish contingency plans for the introduction of full border checks in January. This should help businesses assess the likely disruption at ports and the processes hauliers will need to follow, including temporary arrangements for those ports where holding facilities wont be ready.

So the real test of Brexit is yet to come but it isn’t too late for members to prepare. That requires working with key suppliers to ensure they understand the new processes they will need to follow, that they ensure the support of their local government officials to facilitate exports, have the resources such as vets in place and build appropriate additional time into delivery schedules. We can help by providing insight and intelligence through our Trade Community and dedicated Food Working Group.

However, it is impossible to predict the impact of the new border checks nor how long they continue. So, flexibility may well be important alongside planning. One thing is for sure, Brexit is a long way from being done.