Defra’s top official has admitted the department’s no-deal Brexit plans increase the risk of food fraud and smuggling.
Clare Moriarty, Defra’s permanent secretary, made the extraordinary confession when giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the department’s Brexit preparedness.
Ms Moriarty and her colleague, David Kennedy, director general for food, farming, animal and plant health at Defra, explained to MPs on the committee that the Government was not planning to carry out any checks on food imports from the EU on day one after a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Kennedy said: “The policy approach has been designed on the assumption, which we think is a valid one, that the risk from EU imports is no different on day one in this scenario and that would stay the same for the foreseeable future, because we have got regulatory alignment.
“We would allow stuff from the EU to come into the country. It would not have to be pre-notified and it would not have to be checked at a border inspection post either so the flow would carry on.”
Ms Moriarty went on to say Defra would introduce a requirement to pre-notify high-risk imports ‘as soon as we can’.
“What we are doing is prioritising flow over the checking in the short-term,” she added.
“We are constantly making risk assessments and the risk assessment there favours flow.”
Challenging Ms Moriarty, Cotswolds MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said the plan was a ‘clear risk to public safety’ and asked how the Government would know lorries were carrying what they were said to be carrying without performing any checks.
“We do not,” replied Ms Moriarty.
“Effectively, this is exactly the situation we are in at the moment. I do accept there is a risk involved in this, but it is a risk we believe represents the best balance between disruption to flow and maintaining biosecurity.
“The existing controls which are there within the EU27 on the production of food and the checks imposed at the border of the EU on food coming from outside the EU means there is not a step change in risk at the moment of a no-deal.”