The UK will need to process nearly three-quarters-of-a-million extra consignments of animal products and food imports every year in the case of a no-deal Brexit, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
An estimated 730,000 consignments of “animals, animal products and high-risk food and feed” imports from European Union countries, which do not need to be checked while Britain is a member state, will have to be processed each year, said an NAO report on the Department for Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) preparations for Brexit.
The NAO revealed measures the department plans to take in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the UK not striking an exit deal with the EU.
One of these was introducing a new “international trade function” for food imports and exports, as well as a chemical regulatory service.
But the department “does not have a clear vision either for the new services and functions it has to introduce” and therefore “has limited understanding of future costs,” it said.
IT system replacements
The report said that although Defra had put the IT systems in place to deal with the extra demand, the issue “may require manual workarounds that could cause delays at the border”.
The UK currently uses the EU’s TRACES (trade control and export system) as part of its import control system to notify border inspection posts that carry out controls on imported goods. This also records biosecurity and food safety checks on these imports, sharing information with HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) system.
Defra’s new IT systems would have to replace the EU's system, managing all consignments currently handled by TRACES, while dealing with the added workload of imports of animal products from the EU which are currently not subject to any checks. The 730,000 estimate combines these new checks with those TRACES currently deals with.
“Hampered” by DexEU
Defra had not managed to make progress in supporting businesses in their preparations, it continued. It had engaged “informally and on a one-to-one basis” with stakeholders on planning for the no-deal scenario, but its webpage on how to comply with EU regulations on importing chemicals “contains no reference at all” to Brexit or the changes it might bring.
The reason for this, it said, was restrictions on “open consultations with a wider pool of stakeholders” imposed by the Department for Exiting the European Union (DexEU).
Hinting at clashes between the departments on the handling of the issue, the report said Defra “repeatedly escalated its concerns to DexEU over restrictions on stakeholder communications”, but restrictions remained in place.
Elsewhere, the report said the department had been “hampered” by the restrictions. “When Defra has engaged with customer groups, it has required participants to sign non-disclosure agreements,” it added.
Last month, DexEU published a series of papers advising companies on how to brace themselves for a no-deal Brexit.
Separately, Defra set out its plans for subsidising farmers after Brexit under an Agriculture Bill. Farmers currently receive payments under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which pays farmers based on how much land they farm, meaning big landowners receive most of the funding.
Under the new scheme, announced by environment secretary Michael Gove, farmers will receive payments based on the “public goods” they provide, such as protecting habitats, improving flood management and enhancing air and water quality.
CAP payments will be matched until 2021, at which point the new scheme will be gradually phased in over seven years.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers' Union, said the bill “falls short of our aspirations”.
“Farmers across the UK will be very concerned that the bill provides only a short-term commitment to improve their competitiveness; we cannot future-proof farming businesses based on the ‘time-limited’ initiatives outlined in this announcement,” she said.
In August, the NFU's most senior international trade advisor told SM buyers should back British farming to beat a no-deal Brexit.