Warning over increase in food prices as government reveals post Brexit charges for imports from EU to UK

Warning over increase in food prices as government reveals post Brexit charges for imports from EU to UK
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Tue 30th Apr 2024

The government has confirmed the new fees that UK businesses will need to pay to import food and plants from the European Union.

Known as the common user charge, it means that from 30 April companies bringing animal products, plants and plant products into the UK via the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel at Folkestone will have to pay up to £145, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in new published guidance.

Products affected include fish, cheese, yoghurt, sausage, plants, seeds, bulbs and cut flowers.

The fee for imports of one type of product will be up to £29, with £145 the maximum for multiple types in one consignment.

The full list of fees is as follows:

common user charge

The government has delayed imposing the fees five times. Their introduction is alongside the phased rolling out of new checks and other rules for imports from the EU to the UK following Brexit. Physical checks on food and plant products imposing a ‘medium’ and ‘high’ risk will also be introduced on 30 April.

The government estimates that the new charges will cost British businesses around £330m a year.

Several trade groups have criticised the fees.

Phil Pluck, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, said the government has "announced the charges at the last minute, leaving affected businesses little time to revise their commercial arrangements".

He added:

"Our main concern is that this is now certain to negatively affect food prices. The confirmation that common user charges will apply from 30 April means that UK importers of medium and high-risk goods will have to pass this cost on to either the EU importer, the smaller UK retailer, or the UK consumer.

"Ultimately, this will increase business costs and food prices and potentially lower choices for the shopper."

James Barnes, chairman of the Horticultural Trades Association, said the announcement has been made "at the eleventh hour" and he fears "UK horticulture's competitiveness will be again hit by a cost hike for no material gain".

Barnes said 90% of UK horticulture businesses import plants at some stage of the growing cycle and nearly all are small or medium sized firms. He added:

"Our sector typically has multiple commodity lines per consignment, meaning, in reality, businesses in our sector will be paying the £145 maximum charge. This will be a huge new cost burden for many, hitting SMEs hard.

"The charges will undoubtedly increase costs, potentially reduce consumer choice, and increase the likelihood of empty shelves, thereby impacting biodiversity and meeting our nation's environmental targets."

Speaking to the Guardian, Richard McKenna from Kent-based Provender Nurseries said the company has been unable to quote customers for jobs beyond 30 April because they didn’t know how much the common user was. He said his business has “probably lost work” as a result.

In a statement the government said:

"The charge is designed to recover the costs of operating our world-class border facilities where essential biosecurity checks will protect our food supply, farmers and environment against costly disease outbreaks entering the UK through the short straits.

"The charges follow extensive consultation with industry and a cap has been set specifically to help smaller businesses. We are committed to supporting businesses of all sizes and across all sectors as they adapt to new border checks and maintaining the smooth flow of imported goods."

Around a quarter of the UK's food imports travel through the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel.

Related resources

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Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance journalist and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I'm also Enterprise Nation's news reporter and Bristol Local Leader. I have 20 years of experience as a small business journalist having interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from famous names like Sir Richard Branson and Deborah Meaden to the founders behind brand new start-ups. I've worked for a range of leading small business publications and support groups, most recently as head of content at Enterprise Nation where I was responsible for the prolific output of content on the company's blog and social media. I now freelance for Enterprise Nation as the website's news reporter and as the host of the Small Business sessions podcast. I'm based in Bristol where I run and host regular events with the local small business community in my role as Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I also have strong connections with other major business organisations in the south west region. In total, I've hosted over 100 events including conferences with an audience of hundreds for international brands like Xero and Facebook and live web chats from inside 10 Downing Street. With my partner, I co-run Lifestyle District, a lifestyle blog focused on culture, art, theatre and photography.

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