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New Brexit border tax ‘will cause chaos and food shortages' in weeks

Importers will have to pay up to £145 to bring small amounts of food products into the UK from the end of April.

FILE - Lorries pass the customs checkpoint at the Eurotunnel link with Europe in Folkestone, England, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. Britain’s departure from the European Union has brought higher costs, more red tape and border delays for businesses, and not yet delivered promised benefits, a public spending watchdog said Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)
Importers will have to pay to bring small amounts of products such as cheese, salami and fish into the UK from the end of April. (PA)

A border tax on food will see inflation soar and cause food shortages when it is introduced at the end of April, a Labour MP has warned.

From 30 April, importers will have to pay up to £145 to bring small amounts of products such as cheese, salami and fish through the port of Dover or the Eurotunnel, according to guidance published on Wednesday. The fee, known as the common user charge, has been introduced as a result of Britain leaving the EU following the Brexit vote.

Now, Labour backbencher Stella Creasy has said it could cause “chaos”, and has urged MPs to stop the charge from being brought in.

In a video posted on X, Creasy said: “This isn’t about UK vs EU food. It’s about our supply chains and how they match together.”

Creasy said the charge would apply to “pretty much most food stuff” and “isn’t going to keep our food safe”. She added: “We wouldn’t need this charge if we signed a veterinary deal with Europe. There’s going to be separate charge if you actually want to bring live animals to this country… And these charges are coming in 28 days – pushing up inflation and causing food shortages this summer.”

The European Union and the British flags flying on poles outside London City Hall
The charge has been introduced following the UK’s exit from the EU. (Getty)

What is the ‘common user charge’?

The common user charge is set to be introduced on 30 April for commercial movements of animal products – such as cheese, salami and fish – as well as plants and plant products, through the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel. The charge applies to imports from all countries entering, and transits entering and leaving, the country.

The charge applies even if authorities do not check vehicles for their goods. The fee will be charged per type of product imported, and will vary from £10 to £29 depending on the risk products present. It will also be capped at £145 for mixed consignments.

Small amounts of food for personal use, such as items bought by tourists visiting the continent and returning to the UK, will not need to pay the fee.

File photo dated 15/10/21 of shoppers in a supermarket. Food inflation has slowed to its lowest rate since May 2022 amid easing energy and fertiliser costs and fierce competition among retailers, figures show. Food prices were 5% higher than a year ago in February, a marked drop from January's 6.1% and below the three-month average of 6%, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC)-Nielsen Shop Price Index. Issue date: Tuesday February 27, 2024.
Critics say the charge will increase food prices and risk food shortages. (PA)

What have critics said?

Importers have warned, along with Creasy, that the new charges could lead to higher prices for consumers during the ongoing cost of living crisis. Phil Pluck, the chief executive of The Cold Chain Federation – that represents businesses that run the temperature-controlled supply chain in the UK – said: “Ultimately, this will increase business costs and food prices and potentially lower choices for the shopper.”

He added it was “extremely disappointing” that the charges had been announced “at the last minute”, leaving businesses with little time to make any necessary changes.

Food inflation has come down but critics of the Brexit border charge say it could go back up. (PA)
Food inflation has come down but critics of the Brexit border charge say it could go back up. (PA)

Andrew Opie, director of food at the British Retail Consortium, a trade association for UK retail businesses, said it was “particularly disappointing” that the government had announced the cost of fees so close to them being introduced.

James Barnes, chairman of the Horticultural Trades Association, said the announcement “confirms our fears that in just one month, UK horticulture’s competitiveness will be again hit by a cost hike for no material gain”. He warned that the charges would “undoubtedly increase costs” and increase the likelihood of empty shelves in supermarkets.

Lorries wait aboard the train bound for Europe, at the Eurotunnel in Folkestone, England, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. This is the first day after Britain's Brexit split with the European bloc's vast single market for people, goods and services.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
The government say the charge will reduce the complexity of the UK’s border controls. (Alamy)

What does the government say?

While critics say there could be a £145 fee every single time businesses bring food into the country, the government argue that this figure was “within and at the bottom end of the range which we consulted with industry on”.

A spokesman added: “The charge is designed to recover the costs of operating our world-class border facilities where essential biosecurity checks will protect our food supply, farmers and environment against costly disease outbreaks entering the UK through the short straits. The charges follow extensive consultation with industry and a cap has been set specifically to help smaller businesses.“

The introduction of post-Brexit border checks has been delayed several times over fears they could fuel inflation, but began to be introduced from the start of this year. In the guidance published by the government, they say the new model is “significantly different” to the one that was going to be introduced in July 2022. They say it will “introduce the best possible arrangements for those importing from the EU, and improve the experience of those importing from non-EU countries”.

The government insists it will “reduce the complexity of the UK’s security, biosecurity and public health border controls” by reducing the paperwork and utilising digital processes.

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