THE rollercoaster ride that is Brexit will take another of its many unpleasant and costly lurches later this month.

Tuesday, April 30, will bring the implementation of new border control posts and sanitary and phytosanitary import controls, part of the Border Target Operating Model (BTOM).

So high is the risk to our food security, so great is the likely damage to individuals, businesses, and the economy, this particular plunge into the abyss has been delayed five times by the UK Government.

Last month, the Chilled Food Association (CFA) wrote an excoriating open letter to the UK Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Steve Barclay (he was Brexit secretary in 2018, pictured below right).

The letter, written on behalf of 30 trade and professional organisations representing £100 billion of the UK’s food supply, production and distribution chain, enforcers and port health, outlines significant concerns, including biosecurity, food security and food safety.

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The six-page letter details some of the serious issues to address and the impact of the failings in the UK approach. It also suggests solutions to mitigate the harms which will arise.

Karin Goodburn MBE is chief executive of the CFA and author of the letter. She sits on a range of respected committees, including the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, and World Health Organisation. Goodburn is the woman behind the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Certification Working Group, set up to address the new and changing landscape that the Brexit regulations are creating.

She tells me about the pressures on businesses, of the impact on trade, of her concerns for our food security and the fact costs are set to spiral higher.

Exasperated, she said: “Every time there is a proposal from the UK Government, people invest in paperwork and computer systems, and then the Government changes the rules again. Since 2021, £200 million will have been spent just on ONE export health certificate.”

The National: Border controls

There is only one border control point in the whole of the United Kingdom where sanitary and phytosanitary checks can be carried out: at Sevington, 22 miles from the Port of Dover. However, when Goodburn and I spoke, Sevington still did not have the approval required to carry out those checks, and the costs involved had still not been published.

“We don’t know what ‘very soon’ means any more,” she told me.

“For months we have been saying we are very concerned about the level of engagement the UK Government has in telling the EU nations about the new requirements for exporting to the UK.

“Things have changed so much. EU businesses still are not clear on what systems will be needed. For meat, for example, an official vet needs to examine any product of animal origin before it comes over, but vets in Europe are civil servants. They go home at 5pm and don’t work weekends.

“The Belgian CFA has said it won’t bother with the UK market as trade in the EU is so much easier. A lot of food businesses are working on a 2% profit margin. If on a Thursday you produce fresh meat with a seven-day shelf-life and your vet can’t see it until the Monday, by the time it gets to Dover it only has two days to sell.

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“But you lose another day because you then have to give the authorities 24 hours’ notice. Each delivery to each location has to have its own veterinary certification and its own lorry – you can’t have one lorry serving multiple destinations.”

Some 50% of the pork eaten here comes from the EU – 700,000 tonnes of pork meat, including bacon, come in primarily from Denmark and the Netherlands.

And in January, the UK Government unexpectedly moved a range of produce – including apples, carrots, and avocados – from a low to medium category, meaning more checks and delays.

There is a high likelihood the lorries will just be waved through, initially at least. There is already evidence of smugglers bringing in unsafe meat and a report highlighted an alarming spike in food poisoning cases across England.

According to the BTOM protocol, 100% of the paperwork will be checked, with physical inspections dependent on the category: 100% for high-risk; and between 1%-30% for medium-risk produce.

Goodburn said: “The UK Government says it will be doing ‘light-touch’ checks to ‘keep the food coming in’, whatever that means.

The National: Brexit border arrangements are under discussion (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“We need biosecurity checks but these systems are so ill thought-out and the areas are so under-resourced, we have concerns they just can’t cope, especially as they will be dealing both with the EU and ‘rest of the world’ imports.

“Truck drivers coming off at Dover will get a text saying they have to go to Sevington, but who is going to make them and who is going to stop their trucks being offloaded in the meantime? This is a purely UK-created situation.

“This is all Brexit. We had seamless trade when we were in the EU because we all were complying with EU rules. We still do, it’s just that now we have to prove we still are – and the ‘Not For EU’ labels don’t help either!”

On Thursday, the UK Government finally published its document outlining Brexit import costs and the processes involved – between £10-£145 per commodity line.

That evening, I got a message from Goodburn: “Sevington approval not yet clear. Understand from a colleague’s visit that they’ll wave more vehicles through when it’s busy despite them having been identified for checks.”

She also tells me the UK Government has organised a one-hour webinar to explain the system – only 19 days before the system goes live. “Just one webinar to tell all traders importing into GB and all EU exporters to GB about how much it is going to cost and who’s to pay!”

We might not know how much this latest Brexit fiasco is going to cost, or in how many ways we will count that cost, but we do know we will pay the price.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign