No-deal Brexit: UK food exports could get stuck at borders – National Audit Office

No-deal Brexit: UK food exports could get stuck at borders - National Audit Office
No-deal Brexit: UK food exports could get stuck at borders - National Audit Office

The UK’s lucrative food export industry could be at risk in the event of a no-deal Brexit, a report warns. Food consignments and livestock could be delayed at UK borders if more vets aren’t recruited to process them, the National Audit Office says. Defra said it had expanded its workforce and was preparing for a range of Brexit scenarios. But the Committee of Public Accounts chairwoman, Labour’s Meg Hillier, said: “We are rapidly running out of time.”  The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is one of the government departments most affected by Brexit. It said the work it was doing would mean that environmental, welfare, and bio-security standards would continue to be met in a way that supported trade and “the smooth flow of goods.” But the public spending watchdog has accused it of being unprepared for a no-deal scenario, saying many of its plans were of “poor quality and lack maturity”.  The department has failed to hire enough vets, with the report highlighting that work to “engage publicly with the veterinary market” – due to start in April – had not still been authorised by the government by September. More vets are needed to process the export health certificates – used to prove exports comply with animal health standards and regulations – which will increase if there is a no-deal Brexit.
Without them, consignments of food could be delayed at the border or prevented from leaving the UK, the NAO said.  “Defra will have to introduce a UK equivalent for each of the 1,400 different versions of the current EU certificates, which currently refer to EU law, and agree these with 154 countries in order to continue to export these items,” the report explained.  It said Defra would not be able to reach agreements with all of these countries by March 2019, when Britain is due to leave the European union.  This could leave UK firms unable to export to countries where agreements had not yet been reached for a period after Brexit, it warned.  Environment Secretary Michael Gove said Defra was preparing for “every eventuality” and increasing the number of vets available.  “We won’t have food rotting or animals being destroyed by the side of the road,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.  Meanwhile, Mr Gove is due to set out plans to deliver a “green Brexit”, under which farmers would be paid for “public goods” such as improving access to the countryside or taking action to reduce flooding.  The Agriculture Bill, which will be introduced in Parliament later, also includes plans to make cash available for farmers who invest in new technologies and boosting productivity. The existing subsidies paid to farmers under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy will be phased out over seven years.

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