On 2 May 2024, the House of Lords is due to consider the following topical question for short debate:

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Conservative) to ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the checks on imports and exports of food and agricultural products from and to the European Union, and in particular with regard to the import controls being introduced on 30 April.

1. What border controls for goods traded between the UK and EU were introduced post-Brexit?

When the UK left the EU, it formally withdrew from the single market and the customs union when the transition period ended at 11pm on 31 December 2020. From this point, the UK and EU were in different customs and regulatory regimes.

From 1 January 2021, the EU applied its third-country customs and regulatory regime to goods imported from Great Britain to the EU.[1] Businesses in Great Britain exporting goods to the EU have been subject to the EU’s full border controls since this date. Controls include documentary and physical checks to ensure that goods comply with EU safety, security, health and environmental standards. Different arrangements apply to the movement of goods between Northern Ireland and the EU under the Northern Ireland Protocol, now renamed the Windsor Framework. For further information, see the House of Commons Library briefing on ‘The Northern Ireland Protocol and Windsor Framework’ (1 February 2024).

Whilst the UK government introduced some controls for EU businesses exporting goods to Great Britain, implementation of full border controls has been delayed on five occasions since 2021.[2] For more information on the delays, see academic think tank UK in a Changing Europe’s explainer ‘The UK’s border with the EU’ (30 January 2024).

As highlighted by UK in a Changing Europe, British industries raised concerns about the absence of full border controls for EU exports to Great Britain. Some have claimed the UK was at risk of being in breach of World Trade Organisation rules by appearing to give EU exporters preferential treatment by not applying the same border controls that the UK does to non-EU exporters. Additionally, some stakeholders raised concerns that the UK was vulnerable to diseases without full border checks in place. Others argued it was unfair for British businesses to be faced with expensive and lengthy border checks when exporting to the EU whilst EU businesses could export to the UK without similar barriers.

2. What is the UK government’s plan for border controls?

In August 2023, the UK government published its ‘border target operating model’ (BTOM), which set out the government’s plan for introducing new rules and processes for imports into Great Britain, including from the EU.[3] This replaced a draft version of the BTOM that the government had previously published in April 2023 and sought feedback on.[4] None of the additional checks or controls set out in the BTOM apply to imports into Northern Ireland from the EU.[5]

The BTOM includes a new risk-based approach for sanitary and phytosanitary checks of imports of live animals, animal products, plants and plant products.[6] The three main elements of the sanitary and phytosanitary checks process would be pre-notification, health certification and physical inspections.[7]

The BTOM provides three main risk categories for imports of animals, animal products, plants and plant products into Great Britain: high risk, medium risk and low risk.[8] The level of checks applied to goods would be based on their risk categorisation. More information on the risk categories can be found in government guidance: ‘Import risk categories for animals, animal products, plants and plant products’ (updated 31 January 2024).

The government said the BTOM would be introduced in three key phases during 2024, with the first phase commencing on 31 January 2024.[9] Phase one included the introduction of a requirement for export health certificates and phytosanitary certificates to be produced for imports of medium-risk animal products, plants, plant products and high-risk food and feed of non-animal origin from the EU.[10] Additionally, this phase saw the introduction of pre-notification requirements for EU sanitary and phytosanitary goods entering Great Britain via west coast ports.

The BTOM’s second phase is scheduled to commence on 30 April 2024.

3. What border controls are scheduled to be introduced on 30 April 2024?

The BTOM’s second phase is set to introduce full sanitary and phytosanitary checks on goods imported from the EU.[11] From 30 April 2024, physical, documentary and identity checks at the border are scheduled to be required for medium-risk animal products, plants and plant products imported to Great Britain from the EU, as well as high-risk food and feed of non-animal origin from the EU. Physical checks are due to take place at UK border control posts.[12]

Additionally, a new ‘common user charge’ is scheduled to be introduced for imports of animal products, plants and plant products into Great Britain that come through the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel.[13] UK businesses importing goods eligible for sanitary and phytosanitary checks that enter or transit through the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel could be charged up to a maximum of £145, depending upon the risk category and quantity of goods.

However, recent press reports have suggested that the implementation of the BTOM’s second phase may be delayed. According to the Financial Times on 18 April 2024, the UK government recently told the country’s port authorities that it would not “turn on” health and safety checks for EU imports on 30 April 2024 due to a risk of “significant disruption”.[14] According to the article, the government said “challenges” remained within its systems for registering imports of food and animal products. This meant “there [was] a potential for significant disruption on day one if all commodity codes [were] turned on at once”, the government was reported to have said. To address these problems, the government was quoted as saying the rate of checks would initially be “set to zero for all commodity groups”, with systems “progressively turned on” for different product groups in what it called a “phased implementation approach”.

The government has disputed the claims that the upcoming border checks would not be “turned on” as planned on 30 April 2024.[15] In a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs blog post, it described how “the UK government [had] full confidence that the facilities, infrastructure and systems at the border [would] be ready for the 30 April implementation date of new border checks”. The blog said the government planned to take a “pragmatic approach” to introducing new border checks, with the priority for physical checks on day one being on the highest risk goods and checks being “scaled up to full check levels in a sensible and controlled way”. A government spokesperson said this approach would “[minimise] disruption, protect our biosecurity and [benefit] everyone, especially traders”.

However, MPs from the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have requested further clarity from the government. In a letter to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Steve Barclay on 25 April 2024, the committee sought answers on the government’s plans to implement sanitary and phytosanitary border controls on 30 April 2024.[16] It referred to the Financial Times article on 18 April 2024 that had reported that the new systems would not be fully ready on 30 April 2024. Despite the government’s statements to the contrary, the committee chair Sir Robert Goodwill (Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby) said the committee was concerned that this would be the sixth delay to the implementation of border checks. Sir Robert said ports and businesses faced further uncertainty and had expressed “confusion and frustration” over the implementation of border controls. He also referred to industry concerns about the government’s “inconsistent messaging and last-minute announcements” on issues such as border control post staffing, opening hours and pricing regimes. For example, the committee highlighted how the government had published the common user charge on 3 April, “only 27 days before its introduction”. Sir Robert also criticised the government for failing to meet its commitment from June 2023 to provide the committee with monthly progress updates on the BTOM’s delivery. Sir Robert said the committee had received one such update in October 2023.

The third phase of the BTOM is scheduled to commence on 31 October 2024.[17] This would include the introduction of safety and security declarations for imports into Great Britain from the EU.

4. How do industries think the new border controls could impact EU imports?

Trade bodies and businesses from the food, agriculture, logistics and port industries have raised concerns about how the new regime could increase costs, reduce EU exports to Great Britain and cause processing delays that could result in the loss of perishable items.

The Cold Chain Federation, which represents organisations from the UK temperature-controlled logistics industry, has argued that the 30 April 2024 changes could disrupt the UK’s food supply chain and increase food prices for consumers.[18] The federation said the new border controls would mean EU food businesses supplying the UK would have increased administrative burdens and costs when sending temperature-controlled products to the UK. The federation’s chief executive, Phil Pluck, said this could see some EU businesses stop exporting to the UK. Mr Pluck also said the federation expected to see “cost increases and food wastage as a result of unnecessary delays, disruption and paperwork confusion”.

The British Association of Landscape Industries said that some in the industry had raised concerns about the costs and logistical implications of the new process, for example the requirement for plants and plant products to pass through a border control post.[19] It said some plant nurseries and wholesalers had warned their contractors about the potential for disruption to plant availability and cost increases from 30 April 2024 onwards.

The government has also faced criticism from ports and logistics organisations for delays in providing clarification on some of the new processes. In January 2024, Nichola Mallon, head of trade and devolved policy at the logistics business group Logistics UK and former infrastructure minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, said the industry needed immediate confirmation about how things were going to work and “not at the last minute”.[20] Ms Mallon referred to “outstanding issues” that were still to be sorted at the time, including the import charge the government would apply at its border control posts. The British Ports Association said port operators were “paying close attention” to the 30 April 2024 changes, noting how it needed the government to give guidance to ports on what they will do and what the charging regime would look like.[21]

Despite criticism of the BTOM’s implementation, the Institute of Export and International Trade said some industry experts had highlighted the positive impact the BTOM could have overall on UK businesses.[22] Laura Williams, trade and customs consultant at the institute, and Katrina Walsh, strategy director at the International Meat Trade Association, said the BTOM created a “level playing field” for UK exporters to the EU. Ms Williams described how 2024 could be a more positive year for UK exporters because the UK had some of the “best available products on the market”. Tee Sandhu, a member of the Food and Drink Export Council, also agreed that it was “an exciting time” for UK exporters. He said this was because “European buyers, distributors and agents are still keen to do business with UK producers because they know the demand for our products [is] there”. The Food and Drink Export Council is a collaborative expert committee created by the UK government comprising food industry experts and government representatives.[23]

5. What has the government said?

The government has continued to defend its plans. It stated that the BTOM was designed to reduce burdens for businesses, with “many” sanitary and phytosanitary goods being classified as low risk.[24] On costs, it said the impact on food and drink costs of introducing the BTOM would not be significant, representing less than a 0.2% increase in total over three years.[25] It argued that “the consequences of a major outbreak of plant or animal disease on the economy could be far more severe”.

Overall, the government said the BTOM would “[ensure] we are striking the appropriate balance between protecting the UK from biosecurity risks and facilitating trade”.[26] A UK government spokesperson has also said the government would “continue to work with and support businesses throughout this process to maintain the smooth flow of imported goods”.

6. Read more

Cover image by Ethan Wilkinson on Unsplash.


  1. BBC News, ‘Brexit: Seven things changing on 1 January’, 28 January 2021. Return to text
  2. UK in a Changing Europe, ‘The UK’s border with the EU’, 30 January 2024. Return to text
  3. Cabinet Office, ‘The border target operating model’, August 2023, CP 935. Return to text
  4. As above, p 11. Return to text
  5. As above, p 14. Return to text
  6. As above, pp 37–9 and 47–9. Return to text
  7. As above, p 21. Return to text
  8. As above, p 37. Return to text
  9. As above, p 13. Return to text
  10. As above, p 56. Return to text
  11. As above, p 13. Return to text
  12. As above, p 21. Return to text
  13. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Common user charge: Rates and eligibility’, updated 25 April 2024. Return to text
  14. Madeleine Speed and Peter Foster, ‘UK will not “turn on” post-Brexit checks of EU goods for fear of border delays’, Financial Times (£), 18 April 2024. Return to text
  15. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Coverage about upcoming border checks’, 19 April 2024. Return to text
  16. House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, ‘Letter to Steve Barclay, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) border controls’, 25 April 2024. Return to text
  17. Cabinet Office, ‘The border target operating model’, August 2023, CP 935, p 13. Return to text
  18. Cold Chain Federation, ‘New post-Brexit border controls will jeopardise food supply chain and increase food prices, UK cold chain warns’, 8 March 2024. Return to text
  19. British Association of Landscape Industries, ‘Nurseries and wholesalers issue warning regarding implementation of BTOM’, 8 March 2024. Return to text
  20. Logistics UK, ‘Comment from Logistics UK at the introduction of the first stage of the border target operating model’, 31 January 2024. Return to text
  21. British Ports Association, ‘Statement on introduction of new border controls’, 31 January 2024. Return to text
  22. Institute of Export and International Trade, ‘Most food and drink businesses are ‘apprehensive’ about new trade rules, webinar poll finds’, 17 January 2024. Return to text
  23. HM Government, ‘Food and Drink Export Council’, accessed 24 April 2024. Return to text
  24. Cabinet Office, ‘The border target operating model’, August 2023, CP 935, p 27. Return to text
  25. As above. Return to text
  26. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Coverage about upcoming border checks’, 19 April 2024. Return to text