Posted: 11/11/2021

U-turn on EU import paperwork is distorting market for UK cheesemakers

Simon Spurrell, founder of the Cheshire Cheese company

The government’s last-minute U-turn on EU import paperwork requirements for EU foods coming into the UK has been criticised by British cheesemakers.

In September, the government scrapped plans to implement post-Brexit controls on EU agricultural foods coming into the UK, which were due to come into force on 1 October and on 1 January 2022. These included vets certificates for foods of animal origin and physical border checks, which would have seen European cheesemakers subject to the same requirements as British cheesemakers exporting to Europe. However, the controls have now been pushed back for a second time for a further six to eight months.

“There’s no level playing field,” said Simon Spurrell, founder of the Cheshire Cheese Company and director at Stilton producer Hartington Creamery. “European cheesemakers are exporting cheese to the UK without any of the hurdles we face going the other way. Nothing has changed for them.”

The point was echoed by Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright. “The repeated failure to implement full UK border controls on EU imports since 1 January 2021 undermines trust and confidence among businesses – worse, it helps the UK’s competitors,” he said. “The asymmetric nature of border controls facing exports and imports distorts the market and places many UK producers at a competitive disadvantage with EU producers.”

The Cheshire Cheese Company has lost £250,000 worth of sales to the EU since Brexit because of increased bureaucracy and costs. Spurrell said that consignments now cost around £1,500 more than before Brexit, meaning they were no longer viable. But the cheesemaker is not pushing for EU cheesemakers to be subjected to the same requirements.

“Imposing the same regulations on them is just cutting off your nose to spite your face. I would much rather we all sat down and worked out a reduction in paperwork for everyone. It’s not about tit for tat.”

Cumbrian cheesemaker Martin Gott has also seen exports to Europe crumble since Brexit, but like Spurrell does not want to see EU cheesemakers hamstrung in the same way.

“Is this supposed to be what taking back control looks like?” he asked. “I don’t begrudge small cheesemakers in Europe having access to the British market. Cheeses like mine wouldn’t exist without them. They represent a vision of diversity, which is aspirational for British cheese.”

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