LONDON—Britain on Thursday delayed the introduction of a range of post-Brexit import checks on goods from the European Union by around six months, saying businesses needed more time to prepare because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The British Retail Consortium welcomed the move, but said it was needed because the government was not ready and the required border control posts were “little more than a hole in the ground”.
Britain departure from the European Union at the end of last year created a full customs border with the bloc where previously goods could move freely, threatening the intricate supply chains between the two sides.
Brussels immediately introduced checks and paperwork for goods moving from Britain into the EU, which has led to delays, higher costs, and a serious blow to some businesses such as in fishing industry that are struggling to compete.
To soften the impact, Britain delayed the start of import checks on food until April 1 and full checks until July. They will now be delayed by a further six months.
Britain’s relations with the bloc have soured since it left last year, over COVID vaccines and accusations from both sides that the other is acting in bad faith over their Brexit divorce and trade agreements.
The fate of Northern Ireland, where Britain has already unilaterally sought to delay customs checks to avoid disruption, has been one of the most bitterly contested issues.
Andrew Opie at the British Retail Consortium welcomed the delay. Other trade groups urged talks to improve relations.
“Until the infrastructure is in place, with IT systems ready and established processes for checks and paperwork, it would be foolhardy to introduce full requirements for EHC (export health certificate) documentation, pre-notification of imports, physical checks, and more,” Opie said.
The government said a delay was in the national interest.
“We will now introduce border controls broadly six months later than planned to give traders time to focus on getting back on their feet as the economy opens up after a difficult year,” Cabinet Office Minister David Frost said in a statement.
Official data released on Friday will show the impact of Britain’s new post-Brexit trade relationship on imports and exports in January.
By Kate Holton