UK media including the BBC and Financial Times report that post-Brexit food import restrictions and checks are set to be put off a fifth time – but what will they mean for travellers from France if and when they do come in?
Unlike the EU, which imposed full ‘third country’ formalities on UK imports immediately on January 1, 2021, London decided on a ‘phased’ approach to border checks.
It has re-established customs controls but so far has repeatedly put off food import restrictions, including animal and health checks and certificates.
Most recently, they were meant to start in October this year.
Arguments for postponements so far have included Covid-related delays, more time being needed to prepare procedures and potential harm to the UK economy if EU imports drop.
However, some UK manufacturers have complained about the lack of a level playing field with EU companies.
In April 2022, Jacob Rees-Mogg, then Minister for Brexit Opportunities, told ITV that bringing them in July 2022, as was then planned, would have been “an act of self-harm”.
“It would have increased costs for people and we’re trying to reduce costs,” he said. “That’s the purpose of not going ahead with them and trying to ensure the border flows as smoothly as possible, which benefits everybody.”
He said “small deliveries for things like cheese” could have seen up to a 71% retail price rise to compensate for extra costs “and frankly at that level goods just wouldn’t have come in.”
How are checks affecting imports from the UK to France?
The issue relates to import rules intended to stop any items coming into France and the EU that might be contaminated with animal or plant diseases.
As a result of this, certain food products are banned while others (especially meat, dairy and fresh fruit and vegetables) are subject to expensive checks by vets or ‘phytosanitary’ (plant health) experts, and the issue of approval certificates.
In the UK-to-France direction that means, for example, passengers can no longer bring a ham sandwich, an apple or some cheddar cheese from the UK into France. Dried and processed items of plant origin are generally acceptable.
This also means, for example, that you cannot order a pack of seeds to be posted to France from the UK, as seeds fall under the plant health rules. Second-home owners also cannot bring over live garden plants for planting out.
This has had impacts on some small and medium-sized businesses in France such as British supermarket Geoffrey’s of Antibes, which closed last December after 30 years.
Director Chris Brand previously told The Connexion: “It was due to Brexit-related complications: increased paperwork, suppliers who weren’t set up to deal with the formalities, vets’ certificates for fresh products… It’s worth it for a full pallet of bacon or sausages, but not mixed pallets.”
Meanwhile, the new shop British Smiths, which opened this year in the same town, said it is coping by sourcing items from large EU-based companies that have already imported products into the bloc in bulk.
What will change for taking items to the UK?
At present most food can be taken from France to the UK without formalities, although there are a few rules relating to pork.
Read more: What food items can I take from France to UK as gifts?
In fact, the impact is easy to predict as the UK already lays out its standard rules for food imports from most parts of the world – apart from the EU – which are similar to the rules in the EU for imports from outside the union.
For example, most fresh fruit and vegetables cannot be brought into the UK from non-EU countries without a certificate, apart from certain exotic fruits such as coconuts, mangos and passion fruit.
You also cannot bring in meat or meat products (made with meat), or milk or milk-based products, apart from powdered baby milk and special foods for medical reasons.
You can bring in up to 2kg per person of certain items such as honey and shellfish, and up to 20kg of fish.
So, when the UK-bound checks come in, returning British second-home owners or British residents in France visiting family in the UK will probably not be able to take back French cheeses, charcuterie, fruits and vegetables, pâtés etc – although snails and frogs legs should still be allowed as they are also listed among the few items qualifying for the ‘2kg per person’ rule.
What has the UK been doing to get ready?
This spring the UK was reported to be making practical plans for the start, including systems to keep the need for physical inspections to a minimum, mostly for consignments identified beforehand as likely to pose higher levels of risk.
However, in June the food inspection team at the UK’s largest container port complained of being in a “difficult position” as details of how it would all work were still unknown.
At the start of this week, The Independent reported on EU memos that the European Commission had been sending to member states after the UK was found to be canvassing EU states individually about whether they would be able to issue the required health certificates.
The Commission said that this did not match the UK/EU trade deal and that responses needed to be “harmonised at EU level”.
It initially advised states not to respond to the UK’s questionnaire, before suggesting that they should provide only “short general information” due to the “problematic” nature of the UK’s request.