Brexit: Yet more red tape leaves UK exporters facing EU border disruption

Since the beginning of the year, hauliers shipping products to the EU have seen new disruptions due to a fault in the UK’s digital customs system and new requirements from the French government.

Drivers travelling to ports in the first few days of January discovered that the government’s Goods Vehicle Management System (GVMS) did not recognise the change in year to 2023, making it impossible for them to record data of shipments.

Two years after Brexit, trade organisations are furious over the lack of confidence around border restrictions as hauliers transporting canned foods to the EU via France are now required to present papers only in French.

The GVMS was established in 2020 to coordinate exports to the EU following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU by connecting vehicles to the customs declarations needed at that time.

Every shipment must have a distinct Movement Reference Number entered into the system, which starts with a prefix code that includes the year and the country of origin.

In the first two days of the year, exporters, hauliers, and customs officials trying to ship products on routes between the UK and Holland discovered the system would not recognise the new prefix “23GB”.

They had to drive to inland border facilities to acquire oral approval from Border Force officers and have paperwork hand-stamped, as opposed to a simple automated process across the border.

The system suffered a malfunction, according to HM Revenue and Customs, which manages GVMS, although the impact was said to be limited.

A spokeswoman for HMRC stated: “On Monday, we briefly had technical issues with the GVMS; these issues have now been resolved. We sent a few traders to our Inland Border Facilities, where we closely coordinated with them to make sure they arrived at their destination as soon as possible. We apologise for any inconvenience.”

The French government has started requiring that certain documentation for food exports, known as attestations, be provided only in French and threatening to reject goods that do not conform, posing a dilemma for British exporters.

The new regulations, which were unilaterally announced on December 28 with only three days’ warning before being formally implemented on 1 January, mandate that all paperwork for “shelf-stable composite goods” — such as canned goods, confectionery, and similar items — be provided in French.

French Veterinary and Phytosanitary Inspection Service (SIVEP) stated in a letter sent to UK authorities: “The fact that English is not the official language at SIVEP border control points makes it difficult to understand and may cause errors in determining whether the documents being presented are valid.

“Therefore, starting on 1 January 2023, you will need to offer a private attestation in French in order to make it easier for SIVEP agents to control the attestations. Any shipments that arrive after this date and are accompanied by a private attestation written in a foreign language will be rejected at the border crossing.”

The Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs has reached an agreement with the French to postpone the new regulations until 15 January, but they cannot be stopped since they are an interpretation of regulations covered by the Brexit agreement.

The Cold Chain Federation’s Shane Brennan said that the modifications to the standards will erode exporter confidence.

“Two years past Brexit and we now live with the reality that the way the rules are interpreted can change from one day to the next,” he said.

“It leaves us with an ongoing unease that undermines confidence and prevents businesses from seeking out new customers, making investments, or settling into new long-term business structures.

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