DEFRA is working with officials across government to ensure that the flow of agricultural imports at UK borders continues after the transition period. We will introduce a phased approach to import controls for EU countries, to give businesses impacted by covid-19 time to adjust, while maintaining biosecurity controls.
As the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said in its report, covid-19 has showed that we need to get food through the borders very quickly. We have a just-in-time food system, so getting imports in after the transitional period is exceptionally necessary. I am also very concerned about exports. Imports are largely in our hands, but exports are largely in the hands of the French. In any agreement we get, we must ensure that we have the right veterinary certificates, enough vets to write them and a process that will be recognised and honoured when we try to get exports of lamb and beef into the continent, because there will be a real problem otherwise.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have been doing a lot of work on business readiness with the sector—in particular, with meat processors—to ensure that they understand what will be required of them. Whether or not there is a further agreement with the EU, meat processors will need export health certificates. We have been working with the Animal and Plant Health Agency to ensure that there is capacity in the veterinary profession to deliver those export health certificates, and we are also ensuring that those companies understand the customs procedures that they would need to go through.
It was recently revealed that the UK Government withheld information from the devolved Administrations about the risk of food shortages at the end of the transition period. How was the Department involved in discussions on that risk, and why were such vital assumptions, which the documents acknowledged would impact on devolved Administrations’ planning, hidden from them for so long?
I do not recognise the claim that this was hidden from them. I regularly meet Fergus Ewing and other devolved Administration Ministers to discuss this. They now join the EU Exit Operations Sub-Committee, which is a part of the Cobra Committee, planning for the end of the transition period. The devolved Administrations are fully engaged in all our planning.