In a report from the National Audit Office (NAO), which outlined the progress being made on the UK’s exit from the EU, it warned that the food industry could be particularly damaged if no deal is agreed.
It said that “without a significant increase in the UK’s veterinary capacity, Defra will be unable to process the increased volume of export health certificates it expects if there is no deal”.
The NAO report stated there had been a delay in plans to increase vet numbers which could lead to problems down the line.
“To achieve the required capacity, Defra needed to provide the market with sufficient notice and certainty about the scale of the increased capacity required. It had programmed this work to start in April 2018 but, by September 2018, the Government had not yet authorised Defra [Department For Environment, Food & Rural Affairs] to start engaging publicly with the veterinary market.
“If there are not enough vets, consignments of food could be delayed at the border or prevented from leaving the UK. If there is still a significant likelihood of no deal being reached in October 2018, Defra is planning to launch an emergency recruitment campaign to bring capacity at least part-way towards the minimum level required. Defra told us it is confident that it will be able to fill any remaining gaps, for example through the use of non-veterinarians to check records and processes that do not require veterinary judgment.”
The NAO said that, under a no-deal resolution, Defra would have to introduce a UK equivalent for each of 1,400 different versions of the current EU certificates, and agree these with 154 different countries, in order to continue to export to them - something it believes it will be unable to do by March 2019.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 this morning, environment secretary Michael Gove said “Defra was preparing for every eventuality” and there “won’t be food rotting or animals being destroyed by the side of the road”.