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EFRA Committee raises concerns and seeks clarity from Defra over reported delays to 30 April checks

The EFRA Committee has today written to the Defra Secretary of State, Steve Barclay, to 'encourage more timely and transparent communication with stakeholders regarding [the Department's] approach to SPS import checks'.

The Committee's Chair, Sir Robert Goodwill, has written to the Defra Secretary, following reports in the media last week, which suggested that the new import checks and inspections regime would not commence in full on the planned implementation date of 30 April.

These reports were rebutted by Defra, who stated that "checks are commencing from 30 April and, as we have always said, the medium and high-risk goods posing the greatest biosecurity risk are being prioritized as we build up to full check rates and high levels of compliance."

The Committee's letter to Steve Barclay today states 'although your Department's response to the media reports affirms that checks will commence from 30 April, the Defra presentation reportedly states that you plan to initially set the rate of checks to zero percent for all commodity groups. We are concerned that this is a sixth delay to the implementation of SPS import checks in all but name.'

The EFRA Committee's letter asks Defra 'what a "graduated" or "light touch" approach to the 30 April measures look like in practice' and 'what percentage of new SPS checks on imports will take place from 30 April in each risk category'. The letter also asks when the measures will be scaled up to their intended capacity, and what 'barriers remain to implementing any or all checks on 30 April'.

The Committee additionally asks the Department 'what impact will any delays to the expected checks have on goods being imported from non-EU countries'.

The Committee's letter acknowledges that ports and business have experienced confusion and frustration, and states it is essential that the 'Department urgently takes steps to communicate the changed arrangements to businesses and the public to build confidence in our incoming border controls and reduce disruption.'

The Committee asks the Department to reply to its letter by Tuesday 30 April.

The Committee has today also published the reply from Lord-Douglas Miller to its letter of 26 March, in which the Committee asked for a response to concerns raised by Dover District Council (DDC) about the new SPS import checks and border controls at Dover.

The response from Lord Douglas-Miller, Minister for Biosecurity, Animal Health and Welfare, addresses the issues of African swine fever (ASF) controls at the border, funding arrangements for inspection costs at the border, and the location and the potential for biosecurity risks arising from the use of the Sevington Inland Border Facility.

On funding arrangements for the cost of ASF checks, the letter acknowledges that 'there may well be challenges' for Dover Port Health Authority to achieve 'full cost recovery', by charging traders for inspections, but states that Defra 'do[es] not agree that cost recovery… will be entirely impossible'. The letter states that 'Defra is proposing funding precisely intended to meet any cost-recovery shortfall'. The Department's says that it is 'open to discussing funding requirements with DDC'.

On concerns around moving all commercial imported food controls 22 miles inland to a border control post (BCP) in Sevington, the letter states that 'robust, data-backed enforcement options' will mitigate the risk of legitimate commercial loads not attending for inspection at Sevington.

Regarding illegal imports of meat, the letter says that suspect vehicles 'will continue to be stopped and dealt with by Border Force at the point of entry to the UK, not sent to a BCP'.

Chair's comment
The Chair of the EFRA Committee, Sir Robert Goodwill, said: "Given the high importance of a robust import inspections regime, and the serious concerns expressed by stakeholders to date, I have written the Defra Secretary of State to ask for a clear and unambiguous explanation by the Department as to how import checks will be rolled out from 30 April."


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