Ministers fear delay introducing border checks will disadvantage Welsh farmers
Rural Affairs and North Wales Minister Lesley Griffiths has written to the UK Government warning that continued delays to the introduction of EU import checks are a risk to biosecurity and put Welsh farmers at a disadvantage.
Last week UK ministers confirmed the decision to delay border checks on goods imported from the European Union for a fourth time.
Ministers from the devolved governments were called to a meeting which was called at the last minute and lasted for less than 30 minutes to be told the further introduction of controls would be suspended until the end of next year.
In her letter, the Rural Affairs Minister outlined the Welsh Government’s concerns on the impact of the further delay to import checks, which were due to begin in July and highlighted the importance of high levels of biosecurity in order to protect from animal diseases such as foot and mouth.
The Minister said: “Continued delays to the introduction of EU import checks are a risk to our collective biosecurity, a risk which grows with time.
“The lack of access to EU traceability, disease notification and emergency response systems further compounds this risk.
“I am very concerned the farming sector in Wales will be disadvantaged and there will not be a level playing field for Welsh producers, who are subject to costly and time-consuming EU export checks and regulatory requirements, whilst their EU competitors continue to benefit from the lack of any such regulatory checks.
“I also share concerns voiced by the British Veterinary Association in relation to risks of incursion of exotic diseases to this country.”
The Minister also emphasised the importance of addressing biosecurity issues on a GB-wide basis.
She said: “Given the uncertainty following the UK Government’s announcement, we need our officials to urgently work together to collectively agree a risk-based approach to managing biosecurity risks and take policy decisions on public, animal and plant health issues affecting the UK as a whole.”
The Minister also reiterated the protection of biosecurity is a devolved matter and, whilst a GB-wide approach is preferable given diseases do not respect borders, the future borders regime to protect public, animal and plant health must meet the needs of Wales.
Economy Minister Vaughan Gething has also written to the UK Government to call for Welsh Ministers to be fully involved in discussions on import controls and reiterated that any expenditure on border controls should be funded by the UK Treasury.
In a statement to the Senedd last week, Mr Gething said: ”…the last few months has been an incredibly frustrating period for the Welsh Government, for our ports and for Welsh businesses.
“I’m afraid to say that whilst we’ve been planning for the introduction of Border Controls we’ve been hampered throughout due to a vacuum of information.
“There have been repeated postponements of joint meetings with the UK Government and the other Devolved Governments in this area, while UK Ministers have failed to respond to a series of letters I have sent in recent months.
“I remind Members that the Welsh Government inherited the UK Government’s policy commitment to develop inland Border Control Posts where ports could not accommodate them; and we were getting on with the job of being ready by 1 July.
“That has taken up hundreds of hours of Civil Servants time and a great deal of Ministerial time. We have spent £6m of public money on this programme of work so far.
“The UK Government’s engagement with the Devolved Governments in terms of decision making has been completely unacceptable. It is wholly at odds with the ways of working envisaged in the Inter-Governmental Relations Review and the Common Frameworks.”
“…this is, frankly, disrespectful to a Devolved Government and to this Senedd that holds us to account.
Checks on imports from the EU should originally have been introduced in January 2021 when the Brexit transition period came to an end, but the failure of the UK government to prepare border inspection posts meant they were not implemented at that time and have been delayed three times in the subsequent 28 months.
A total of 30 BCPs were set to be built across the UK to enable physical checks to be carried out on certain goods entering the UK from the EU as required under the Brexit trade deal.
The controls due in July which have been abandoned included prohibitions and restrictions on the import of chilled meats from the EU, safety and security declarations, and changes to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks on plant and animal products.
Goods moving from the UK will continue to be subject to checks in the EU despite the Government deciding not to introduce the controls in Britain.
Controls which have already been introduced in the UK will also remain in place.
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These checks are essential if we are to avoid letting devastating plant diseases into the UK. The failure of this Tory government on this matter shows that, whilst they lust for power, they do not actually have the competence to wield it responsibly.