The UK logistics industry is split over the cost of post-Brexit border checks on food and fresh produce, heaping pressure on the government as it seeks to finalise the long-delayed measures.

Transport groups have “strongly opposed” a government proposal to charge an “exceptionally high” flat fee of up to £43 on animal and plant products entering the UK via Wales and the Kent coast, warning that it would further drive up food inflation.

But port operators have called on the government to enforce the charge more widely, arguing that this would help them recoup investments in the multimillion pound border facilities they had to build in preparation for Brexit.

The conflicting demands underline business-leaders’ wide-ranging concerns over the belated introduction of border checks on EU imports more than three years after the UK officially left the bloc. 

The industry concerns emerged after the government set out plans this year to charge a flat fee of between £20 and £43 on all imports eligible for checks at two government-run inspection points near Dover and Holyhead, Wales, where ports did not have sufficient land to build their own facilities.

But the planned charge, which will be used to cover operational costs, has been strongly criticised by lobby group Logistics UK, whose members include the trucking companies that carry goods across the border.

It said the proposed range was “exceptionally high” and up to double the charge per truck currently imposed by the Port of Dover, according to a letter sent in July and seen by the Financial Times. 

Transport groups had already absorbed the cost of higher inflation and the additional charges would inevitably be passed on to consumers, said Nichola Mallon, Logistics UK’s head of trade, in the letter. 

Portsmouth International Port backed a flat fee to cover inspections
Portsmouth International Port backed a flat fee to cover inspections © Getty Images

In a separate letter sent the same month, however, Portsmouth International Port backed a flat fee to cover inspections and warned the government against setting the charge so low that it undercut privately owned ports and diverted all food imports through government-run facilities in Kent.

Director Mike Sellers said that Portsmouth port, which is the UK’s best-connected port to Europe and a major entry point for food imports, had been forced to make a “significant capital investment” in developing its roughly two-acre site, adding that “the recovery of these costs is hugely challenging”.

His concerns reflect those raised by other port operators across the UK, after repeated delays to introducing post-Brexit border checks have left them with empty high-tech facilities that they said risked becoming multimillion pound “white elephants”.

One port industry insider said ministers’ decision to split responsibility between government and business for regulating imports post-Brexit had created a “pretty intractable problem”.

Richard Ballantyne, head of the British Ports Association, said a number of ports had called for the government to enforce a flat fee across the country, not only at state-run entry points.

Grimsby, a member of Associated British Ports.
Grimsby, a member of Associated British Ports. ABP says the government needs to provide more detail on crucial areas © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

“We completely understand why many [others in the logistics industry] are lobbying against any costs or checks,” he said. “But [ports] are stuck with these big white elephants of Brexit . . . With every extra month of delay, they are a cost drain.”

Operators looking to charge flat fees have also raised concerns about how private ports will identify which shipments contain products eligible for checks, such as perishable food and cut flowers, without access to government data.

Tim Morris, head of corporate affairs at Associated British Ports, whose 21 members include Grimsby, Immingham and Southampton, said time was running short to clarify the new charging structures. “We urgently need the government to provide more detail on crucial areas of border policy such as cost recovery, how consignments are treated and how new government border IT integrates with existing systems,” he said.

The department for environment, food and rural affairs said it was considering input from businesses “to ensure we take the fairest approach”, adding that it would set the cost of border checks “in due course”.

“Biosecurity controls on goods imported into the UK are vital to safeguard and improve our high biosecurity standards,” it said.

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