Food in UK can be 60% dearer with new Brexit checks

Importers of food from the EU to Britain have expressed concerns that newly implemented post-Brexit checks could lead to cost increases of up to 60%, resulting in higher prices for customers and potentially forcing some shops out of business. After five previous delays, the UK government has introduced physical checks on animal and plant products from the EU, along with a common user charge (CUC) of up to £145 per consignment.

However, importers and haulage companies criticized the lack of clarity on what constitutes a “consignment.” Many assumed the cap applied per lorry, but vehicles carrying a variety of products from different locations may be required to pay multiple fees, significantly raising costs.

Companies transporting meat and dairy products from Poland and other Eastern European countries now face charges that can amount to hundreds of pounds per lorry. While the government has reduced the number of inspections to avoid border delays, most food and plant imports through Dover and the Channel Tunnel still face the CUC. One major importer of Eastern European goods to the UK, which sends over 70 lorries weekly, noted that some trucks might now face costs of up to £1,500 extra to cover the CUC, a 60% increase from the usual €3,000 transport cost.

Adriana Zalewska, from Kin Global Distribution, explained that her company’s lorries often carry mixed shipments of meat, dairy, and other fresh produce, with the new fees potentially adding more than £1,300 per shipment. She indicated that this cost increase could lead to higher food prices in the UK, impacting small businesses like shops, local distributors, and import companies. Similarly, Piotr Liczycki, managing director of the Polish company Eljot Transport, which sends 2,000 lorries to the UK annually, said the new fees could add between £300 and £2,000 per lorry, increasing operational costs by up to £1.5 million this year.

The CUC details were revealed by the government only at the beginning of April, giving businesses little time to prepare for the changes. The cap applies to each consignment with a common health entry document (Ched), and on a lorry with mixed loads from different suppliers, each type of product requires a Ched. This means a lorry carrying various products like beef, milk, and eggs could incur fees several times higher than £145.

These post-Brexit checks, implemented at the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel, are designed to cover the cost of checks and operations at the government-run border control facility in Sevington, Kent. Other ports across the UK, with privately run border control posts, also introduced these checks, setting their own fees for importers.

Despite assurances that these initial checks would be “light-touch” and scaled up in a “sensible and controlled way,” the high costs are causing concern among businesses. Michael Szydlo, CEO of Quick Declare, a customs agency in the food industry, mentioned some loads have incurred CUC fees of £3,000, prompting him to ask the government to reduce import costs to avoid long-term damage to food supply chains.

A government spokesperson defended the checks, stating they are essential for protecting the UK’s food supply chain, farmers, and the natural environment from costly diseases, citing the impact of the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, which cost businesses over £12.8 billion (adjusted to 2022 prices). The spokesperson added that the government would continue supporting businesses through this process to maintain the smooth flow of goods.

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