The UK-France border closing before Christmas due to the new strain of COVID-19 has made the swift impact of delays clear.
Now that the Brexit transition period ends on December 31st, there are fears that new delays will recur. This is because – regardless of the fact that a post-Brexit trade deal was agreed – new customs regulations will apply from January 1st.
Brexit means that London and Brussels now have different customs rules and regulatory standards, which means border controls are necessary. They apply to UK imports into the EU, but controls on goods coming the other way will be gradual in more than six months.
However, there are concerns about the impact of delays on imports from the EU, as this is where much of the UK’s fruit and vegetables come from.
“Peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli – all will be fine,” said Vernon Mascarenhas, commercial director of the UK food company Nature’s Choice.
“But the finer, the more tender the heads of lettuce. Everything over 48, 56 hours [journey time to the UK] We will then see a deterioration in the harvest and I would even say that we may have to rethink things like baby spinach, which has a very, very short shelf life. Baby spinach wouldn’t make it, even on a refrigerated truck for three days. “
Shane Brennan is the executive director of the Cold Chain Federation. He speaks on behalf of the people who drive refrigerated trucks from Europe to the UK.
“The sentence is borderline,” he said. “Depending on the products you have in your vehicle, all of the records are there and they are ready to cross the line. If there is a lack of readiness, the vehicle will be delayed. And if there are gaps in their records, they are literally stopped and flipped over. That then creates a nudge effect. It doesn’t take much of it to slow down the whole system to slow down quite dramatically. Small delays, vehicle by vehicle, result in long delays for everyone else. “
UK supermarkets are preparing as best they can. For goods with a long service life, this means stocking up. However, the chairman of the UK’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco, said a shortage of fresh food cannot be ruled out for a period of weeks or possibly months.
People in this industry see delays as a certainty rather than a risk. The real uncertainty is how long they could last.