Technological fixes to the UK’s post-Brexit trade border will not be available until 2025 at the earliest, the Government has said.
The warning was issued to trade organisations as Michael Gove, cabinet office minister, confirmed to business groups that full import controls will be introduced immediately after Brexit.
Revealed by The Telegraph last month, the import control plans mark a radical shift from the previous government’s “no-deal” planning that prioritised the flow of goods over the need for checks.
A source present at the meeting of Border Delivery Group members said the Government had staked out a hardline position that will require all agri-food products to enter via a border inspection post, with identical treatment for imports from the EU and from the rest of the world.
It might trigger lengthy delays and even disruption to food supplies without urgent preparation, business lobbyists said.
Brexit backers hope new technology will smooth the border crossing process – but this is not expected to happen in the next five years. The source said: “They confirmed that customs and regulatory checks are to be expected in 2021, whether or not a trade agreement with the EU is done.
“The priority is for the border to be operational by the end of 2020, and ‘smart’ borders and technological simplifications won’t come before 2025. Frictionless trade as an objective for the end of the transition period has been abandoned.”
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said ministers will have to move fast to provide the infrastructure needed for full border controls from January 2021.
He added: “Without the necessary infrastructure up and running from day one, consumers in the UK will see significant disruption, particularly in the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables.”
The Government has said it will provide funding for industry to adjust to the new regime, extending the deadline for businesses to apply for customs support funding to Jan 31 2021 – so far only £18.5m has been claimed out of the £26m available.
Estimates from HMRC suggest that the number of customs declarations could rise from 55 million at present to more than 200 million following Brexit.