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Inland customs facilities and ports not ready for the next wave of Brexit red tape

With the next big wave of Brexit red tape coming into force in July, British ports and inland customs facilities are busy preparing border check-posts to ensure the increased number of border checks they have to perform under the new post-Brexit rules is as efficient as possible. 

However, most of those facilities are far from being completed, with the one in Dover currently described as just ‘a muddy field’. 

Port and border check-posts operators are urging the government to delay the upcoming changes to give them an opportunity to catch up and build facilities that will cater to the increased number of checks at these designated border control posts (BCPs) when all goods entering the EU by sea, rail or air should be inspected.

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Facilities not ready for July

“It’s obvious not all of the facilities are going to be ready; how much of it will be is still up for debate,” said Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the trade body British Ports Association (BPA). 

“Our frustration with government is they are not willing to share what the plan B is.”

Some places, such as Portsmouth, Thames or Purfleet have only begun the construction of those ports. A few others have not even announced the location of some of the inland border checkpoints. 

Portsmouth city council, the owner of the Portsmouth port,  says its contractors expect the facility to be completed by mid-August when it will have to be certified by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), as well as the Animal and Plant Health Agency. This process could take several more weeks.

With less than four months to go until the official deadline, such little progress is worrying and concerns have been raised by the National Farmers Union (NFU), warning that livestock trade could come to a complete stop because no Channel port has planned to build facilities to check incoming farm animals. 

Delay caused by funding issues

The Portsmouth operator blames the delay on the result of complications with the government’s funding process for these multimillion-pound infrastructure projects. When the government introduced the taxpayer-funded Port Infrastructure Fund it didn’t expect it to be oversubscribed. Having to share the £200m between many more facilities than initially expected, they had to introduce cuts to the budgets these facilities applied for. 

For example, the Portsmouth port applied for £34m but only received £17.1m funding. Being a publicly owned port, they had to revise their facility plans and adjust to the budget, meaning they are no longer building the live animal inspection post. Preparing facilities with a place for inspection of live animals is costly because the inside needs to be biosecure to avoid any contamination.

This is likely to have huge implications on livestock. Portsmouth is the main point of entry into the UK for racehorses, and in total, 60,000 breeding animals, including pigs, sheep and cattle, enter and exit the UK through Portsmouth each year.

Government’s Plan B for customs facilities

Not everyone is behind on schedule. Southampton, Plymouth, Hull and Immingham, operated by the company Associated British Ports (ABP), are all expected to be ready on time.

Nevertheless, the majority of those BCPs are predicting to miss the July deadline. The ports have written to the Cabinet Office, Department for Transport and Defra and are expecting a plan B. 

“Even if they aren’t willing to extend beyond July, or publicly say that, they must have alternative plans, and ministers and officials are being told this on a weekly basis,” says Ballantyne, chief executive of the trade body British Ports Association (BPA) who are calling on the government to share its contingency plans.

A government spokesperson said it is “making significant preparations to ensure [ports] will be ready for the staged introduction of border controls”, adding that it was working closely with ports that have received funding.

One solution for those check posts that won’t be ready by July is to amend the process and allow the checks to be carried out at the destination port like it is set up at the moment. Sceptics see this as an opportunity for the UK border to be used for fraud and smuggling.

As always, here at UKCS we believe a preventative and proactive approach is better. If your products will be subject to more check at borders from July, get in touch with our team and see how we can take some of the stress away with our extensive customs solutions. 

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