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EU trade friction is price UK has to pay to be sovereign after Brexit – Leadsom

The Conservative minister said businesses would have to ‘adapt’ after the introduction of new post-Brexit checks.

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Andrea Leadsom

Friction in the trading relationship with the European Union is the “price” the UK is paying to be a “sovereign state again” after Brexit, a Government minister has said.

Dame Andrea Leadsom, a Conservative health minister and prominent Leave supporter, said businesses would have to “adapt” after the introduction on Wednesday of new post-Brexit checks on food, drink and some agricultural imports, including fresh flowers.

The long-delayed new rules are part of the UK Government’s introduction of a series of checks this year.

Fears have been expressed about the disruption the changes could cause to supply chains, with MPs also warning that the new border regime could present “serious biosecurity risks” to the UK.

Dame Andrea, a former business secretary, said traders were made aware that Brexit would mean leaving the European single market, resulting in “additional checks at the border”.

“There was no surprise about that,” she told Sky News on Wednesday — the fourth anniversary of the UK withdrawing from the EU.

Told about a florist who has said they will struggle to import flowers from the Netherlands because of the additional checks, Dame Andrea appeared to suggest they should instead buy from the “many parts of the United Kingdom that are flower growers”.

Pressed on whether she was saying businesses should curtail trade with Europe as a result of the added red tape, the minister replied: “I’m not saying that at all.

“Leaving the single market was always going to have implications… I’m just saying that businesses need to adapt to meet the changing environment.”

In another interview with Times Radio, Dame Andrea said: “There is a huge new opportunity for the UK at the same time as continuing to trade, albeit with some friction (with the EU), which is the price you pay for leaving the single market and for being a sovereign state again.

“For me as a Brexiteer, I am still absolutely convinced that this is the right thing to do.”

Boris Johnson, the former prime minister who enacted Brexit in 2020, chimed in with heralding the opportunities the UK has outside the bloc.

“Four years on from Brexit we celebrate the restoration of this country’s democratic power to make its own laws and rules,” he tweeted.

The former Tory leader said “Brexit freedoms” had allowed Britain to sign its own trade deals, improve animal welfare standards and “created greater flexibility for cutting edge industries”.

He fired a warning shot to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over reports the No 10 incumbent’s deal to restore the Stormont Assembly will see the UK avoid diverging with Northern Ireland by potentially joining the region in aligning with EU goods rules — a move said to be aimed at placating unionists.

Referring to the Brexit plan proposed by Theresa May, his predecessor in No 10 Mr Johnson said: “We must at all costs avoid a return to anything remotely like the disastrous ‘Chequers’ formula whereby artificial concerns about the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland are used to keep the whole of the UK in alignment with EU rules.”

With the new border checks that Mr Johnson signed up to while in office being introduced, Home Secretary James Cleverly looked to calm fears about the changes, saying there would be “no interruption” to food on supermarket shelves as a result of the new rules.

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Paris on Tuesday, he said: “We’re going to make sure that these sensible, responsible checks are done in a way that makes no interruption to the supply of food to the shelves, so people don’t need to worry about that.”

Goods from Britain have faced similar controls from the EU since it left the bloc’s single market at the start of 2021, but the UK has repeatedly put off checks in the other direction.

Reforms as part of the new post-Brexit system, dubbed the Border Target Operating Model, will see health checks on foods arriving at Dover carried out at a facility in Sevington, Kent, about 22 miles inland.

MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Dover Port Authority have been among those expressing concern about the plan, as well as the prospect of funding cuts.

A Government spokesperson said: “We have strict border controls in place to protect food and animal health safety and these, along with our high biosecurity standards, remain unchanged.

Cabinet meeting
Home Secretary James Cleverly (Victoria Jones/PA)

“Following careful consideration of the options for border control posts in Kent, we announced our intention to consolidate physical controls at the inland border facility at Sevington.

“We are confident that Sevington will have the necessary measures in place to appropriately mitigate biosecurity risks that relate to this facility being located away from the point of entry.”

Rules are set to be updated further in the months to come.

By April 30, medium-risk animal products from the EU will undergo documentary, identity and physical checks.

From October 31, safety and security declarations for EU imports will become mandatory, along with a more streamlined dataset for imports.

Labour said the party, should it win this year’s expected general election, would look again at the trading relationship with Brussels if businesses are “struggling” with the new checks.

Tulip Siddiq, a shadow Treasury minister, told Sky News: “If there are things that aren’t working, then of course we need to review it and look at it.

“We would look at look at where businesses are struggling, where the economy is struggling, and go and see if we can get a better deal for our country.

“That is what anyone who is in charge should be doing.

“They (voters) may have voted to leave the European Union, but they didn’t vote to get a bad deal.”

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