Posted: 01/03/2020

Importers braced for impact as government announces end to frictionless borders in 2021

UK-based importers of fine food from Europe are preparing for the impact of a hard border with the EU after the government’s confirmation in February that checks are “inevitable” from 2021 onwards.

Among the concerns of businesses that FFD spoke to are increased costs, longer lead times for arriving stock, and fresh products perishing in transit due to delays at the border –  but all were still waiting for further details of the border crossing process before making definitive plans.

Senior cabinet minister Michael Gove announced that vehicles entering the UK after the Brexit transition period ends on 31st December 2020, would be liable to checks. All trades bringing items into the UK will have to submit customs declarations.

Heath Blackford, MD of Brindisa told FFD, that the Spanish food specialist had been keeping in touch with HM Revenue & Customs and regularly updating its plans to deal with Brexit for the last three years – including stockpiling ahead of potential No Deals in October 2019 and January 2020.

“The general feeling we’ve got is that everything will take a little longer to get there and it will cost a little more,” he said. 

“It depends on how complex the documentation is but costs will have to come through.”

Blackford said he hoped that HMRC would implement a checking system that would make things easier for regular importers like Brindisa. He added that knowing how much more consumers would be willing to pay, if costs had to be passed on, was a “million dollar question”.

John Siddall, owner of The Fine Cheese Co, said that his retail customers should be reassured about the supply of dry goods that his company brings in from Europe, despite delays.

“Really it’s the fresh foods that are going to be the issue,” he said. “Swiss cheese and Comté aren’t an issue, but it’s things like soft cheeses from France that could be a problem.”

Siddall said he hopes that consumers will be able to bear some of the costs, citing his recent experience with exporting to the USA – which has imposed 25% tariffs on EU goods.

“The importers there didn’t buy cheese because they thought the retailers wouldn’t want to buy. And the retailers didn’t buy because there wasn’t the supply,” he said. “But the consumers, where they could get these items, continued to buy.”

HMRC has extended the deadline for businesses to apply for customs support funding to 31st January 2021. At least £7.5m of funding is still up for grabs.

This story appeared in the March issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.

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