UK unveils Border Operations Centre: but is it too little too late to avert a Brexit import crisis?

The UK government revealed this week that it has established a border operations centre to monitor the flow of goods and travellers in and out of the country. It’s hoped that the facility will alleviate some of the anticipated border disruption that could last months as the country leaves the single market and customs union.

Regardless of whether there is a post-Brexit trade deal, french authorities will impose full EU customs and controlled goods checks on all goods arriving from Britain from January 1. Current legislation states that all produce must be inspected at its first port of call into the UK.

Ministers fear the checks could lead to queues on this side of the Channel, with the possibility of up to 7,000 lorries waiting for two days in tailbacks. It will also affect the shelf life and route to market of a significant amount of the UK’s fresh produce increasing wastage amounts and CO2 emissions.

These concerns are shared by some of the UK’s key players in the logistics, shipping and import/export industry.

Mike Parr is director of global fresh produce cargo specialists, Perishable Movements Limited (PML). His team has been importing fresh produce from outside of the UK since 2003 and reiterates the concerns raised by ministers.

“We’re so close to Brexit; it’s imperative that the government start addressing key questions if we are to ensure that our borders can cope with leaving the European Union.” 

“Who will be running these facilities and where will they find and train the staff needed to deliver a service that meets the exacting standards of DEFRA inspectors and vets?”

Mike Parr’s comments reflect the wider industry atmospherics that query why the government has failed to call upon the expertise of commercial companies practiced in the day-to-day handling and processing of imported produce.

Earlier in November PML opened it’n new Border Control Post (BCP) in Spalding to streamline and fasttrack its process of importing fresh produce to the UK while future proofing against Brexit chaos for its customers.

“There are a number of purpose built handling facilities across the UK which the government should be using as inspection facilities to relieve the pressure on the UK’s ports. By failing to consult with industry experts, consumers and businesses that work with imported goods face a bleak start to 2021 which will affect national supply chains, transportation links and much more. This is not what the industry needs after a difficult year navigating Covid-19”, added Mike.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said ministers were “once again” putting the “burden on businesses to prepare for the end of the transition period, when it has not explained what it is those businesses are getting ready for”.

She continued: “The government is rebadging a basic element of preparation but still can’t tell us how many customs agents are recruited or trained or whether crucial IT is ready.

“With glaring questions like these still unanswered, this government must do much more than just ‘demand action’ from UK businesses, already under huge pressure from the pandemic – and instead provide them with some much needed answers.”