Brexit For Members

Who in Europe is affected by the UK's new Brexit border checks on goods?

Claudia Delpero, Europe Street
Claudia Delpero, Europe Street - [email protected]
Who in Europe is affected by the UK's new Brexit border checks on goods?
It will become more difficult for firms to send goods like Mozzarella from Europe to the UK under new post-Brexit checks. Photo: Tania Aviles from Pixabay

The UK has finally introduced post-Brexit border checks on food, plants and some animal products coming in from Europe. These affect businesses for now but soon they will be extended to people carrying personal goods from the EU to the UK.


The UK finally brought in post-Brexit border checks on Thursday February 1st, affecting several products, including food and plants. 

The checks on goods arriving from countries in Europe have been due to come into force since January 2021, when the UK left the single market and customs union. But the British government postponed them five times, to allow companies to prepare and to avoid the price hikes that will result from more paperwork and longer delivery time. 

Now that the checks are finally coming into effect albeit in a phased approach, “Brexit finally becomes real for imports of EU goods into Britain,” The Economist writes.

So who is affected now and what's the next step?

Which products are checked?

Currently the new checks concern food, plants and some animal products from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, as well as the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

Under the new system – the “Border Target Operating Model” – these goods are classified in categories based on the risk they pose to public health and the environment.

From February 1st 2024, imports of plants and animal products considered at ‘low risk’, a including ham, sausages and cured meat, as well as butter, cheese and cream as well as cut flowers, will have to be notified to authorities before they arrive in Great Britain but will not require a health certificate and they will mostly be exempt from systematic controls. 

Imports considered at “medium risk” (mostly concerning meat, dairy and fish products) or “high risk” (all plants for planting, potatoes, used farm machinery, certain seeds and wood) will require health or phytosanitary certification.

READ ALSO: How the UK's delayed Brexit checks on fresh food from the EU could affect you


As of April 30th 2024, physical checks will begin on medium and high-risk products. Inspections will be done at designated border posts, instead of at the destination. The government said the selection of consignments for physical checks will be based on risk and the “history of compliance of specific trades”. 

From October 31st 2024 orders of medium and high-risk goods will have to be accompanied by a safety and security declaration. 

Reuters reports there will be no checks on fruit and veg imports from Europe to the UK until October.

But companies exporting products from the EU to the UK will be severely affected.

Shane Brennan, Chief Executive of the Cold Chain Federation told the UK in a Changing Europe website: "To illustrate the issue - if I am a producer of buffalo mozzarella in northern Italy, or of chorizo in western Spain… I will for the first time (possibly ever) be asked to become an exporter.. and I must train myself up on the complex international and UK rules, find a local vet that is willing to certify my goods, at site (at a cost of €200 to €700 a time); find a specialist haulier, usually on a lorry carrying goods from other local food producers with the same compliance burdens; employ an agent to ensure the data entries onto the UK’s food import IT system, alongside customs declarations, at maybe €50 to €200 a time; and… pay a new border inspection charge of up to £43 irrespective of whether my consignment is physically inspected or not.

“The reality is that many EU based food producers will take the decision not to service the UK anymore,” he said. 


Sending chorizo from a company in Spain to a friend in the UK? That will get more expensive. Photo: Monica Volpin from Pixabay

Why the UK is checking goods

Why are checks needed at all given that there are no quotas or tariffs under the post-Brexit EU-UK trade agreement? The reason is that both the UK and the EU have to make sure that goods meet the quality standards set out in the respective laws. 

The EU put in place border controls on goods imported from the UK immediately after the UK left the single market, in 2021. This left British exporters at a disadvantage, as they faced customs checked while EU exporters to Britain did not, the UK’s National Farmers Union (NFU) noted. 


In addition, the NFU said in October, that "border controls have a vital role to play in upholding our nation’s biosecurity, food safety and international reputation… It is crucial that goods we import into the UK meet equivalent standards and do not undermine biosecurity".

Also, the lack of UK controls on EU imports could be challenged at the World Trade Organisation because it gave the EU an unjustified preferential treatment over other countries.

More paperwork and concerns

The new system, however, is expected to have an impact on the price of goods. Companies on both sides of the Channel will have to deal with more paperwork, which will increase costs that are going to be passed on to consumers. Time will also be a factor, as there could be delays at custom controls, especially for shipments with several types of products (the so-called “groupage”) or if businesses make mistakes in filling the forms. 

According to the UK government, the changes will cost UK businesses approximately GBP 330 million (€388 million) per year.


Businesses have expressed concerns especially for fresh goods, which could be damaged or perish while waiting. The VGB, the Dutch flower growers’ association, called on the British government to delay the checks again because they are due to start in the middle of the planting season.

Marco Forgione, director general at the Institute of Export and International Trade, told the BBC this week: "There is still confusion and uncertainty, both here in the UK and in the EU… we need to do more to make sure businesses here and in the EU really know what these changes are and how they can comply with the new regulations."

Individual travellers could face checks from April

For now at least, personal goods brought to the UK by individual travellers are not impacted by the new rules or subject to checks.

But they will be in the near future, a spokesperson of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) told The Local.

Under the current rules , it is currently possible to bring to the UK food, including dairy, fish and meat for personal use, although there some restrictions, such as 2kg maximum on pork products. There are no restrictions on bringing food items such as chocolate, biscuits, cakes and bread.


Wine, beer and spirits are not affected by the new checks, but they have been subject to new limits since January 2021.

A plant health certificate is already needed for certain plants, seeds, bark and wood from the EU, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

But when the 

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The spokesperson for DEFRA said: "The future policy for personal imports is still being finalised and we will publish details shortly.

“It remains our intention that the new personal imports policy will come into effect in April 2024. Details are being finalised but the policy will adopt similar principles of risk assessment and proportionality as set out on the Border Target Operating Model."



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