Civil servants 'kept in the dark' during decision to delay Brexit checks

Move to delay import checks by six months the "latest example" of ministers excluding officials from decision making, union says
A Border Force agent seizing goods. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA

By Adam Payne

12 Mar 2021

The government's move to delay checks on imports from the European Union by six months is the "latest example" of ministers excluding expert officials from decision making, a union representing civil servants has said.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, said civil servants, who are responsible for implementing the new border checks, reported feeling ignored by the government and "kept in the dark" about major decisions impacting their jobs.

"This decision to delay implementing full biosecurity checks at the border seems to have been made without consulting the experts working on the front line, and without even warning them that the decision was being made," Graham told CSW sister title PoliticsHome.

"This is the latest example of expert public servants being kept in the dark and left to pick up the pieces".

Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, announced on Thursday that checks on EU imports that were due to be phased in from April had been postponed until October, with the final bits of paperwork not coming in until March 2022.

He said that the government had "listened to businesses who have made a strong case that they need more time to prepare" for handling new paperwork on goods arriving from the continent.

Ports across the country have in recent weeks warned ministers that the facilities needed to carry out checks will not be ready on time.

The introduction of checks in April and July was expected to lead to severe delays, with particular concern over how food and drink imports would be impacted at the same time as hospitality and food retailers reopening.

Physical checks on animal and plant imports from the EU will not begin until January – a whole year after the UK left the Single Market and Customs Union on 1 January of this year.

Graham expressed concern that the decision to postone these checks would make it even harder for officials to carry out their job of protecting the UK's food safety and animal and plant health.

"Specialists at the Animal and Plant Health Agency are already overstretched trying to plug the holes in the current system of checks, and delaying the move to border control posts simply widens the gulf in our biosecurity defences," he said.

He called on ministers to take the views of civil servants more seriously.

"If we are serious about meeting these new deadlines for having robust border checks on imports then ministers need to start listening to expert civil servants, involving them in decisions, and resourcing these agencies properly so they can do their job," he said.

The Cabinet Office has been approached for a comment.

Adam Payne is a reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.

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