Why there’ll be border controls at Gretna Green

In 712 days from today, Scotland could be an independent nation. And the rest of the UK will be obliged to impose border controls. Not, as you might think, to prevent Romanian and Syrian refugees sneaking past at Gretna Green, but to carry out border inspections of Scottish smoked salmon, MacSween haggises and Loch Fyne oysters.

The only thing that is certain about the proposals for independence is that everything is uncertain. With the results of the referendum known on 19th September this year, that leaves only 552 days to sort out the arrangements for an independent Scottish nation, and most of that time will be spent begging for warships and aircraft and simultaneously demanding that rUK removes its nuclear assets from the Clyde. The remaining political energy will be engaged in wrangling over debts and assets, and what arrangements can be put in place to keep electricity flowing between the two countries.

There are huge problems in ensuring an orderly transition from being in the UK and, by extension, the European Union, and being outside both. I’ve no doubt that the natural goodwill between friendly neighbours on this island will overcome many problems and keep business as normal as much as possible, but what the rUK cannot do is independently admit to its markets goods and products which otherwise require border controls to enter the EU. And food which contains products of animal origin is one such set of goods.

Whatever Alec Salmond says, the indications are pretty clear that an independent Scotland will, on 24th March 2016, not be a member of the EU. On this point, the President of the European Commission, Mr Jose Manuel Barroso, told the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee:

A new independent state would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the EU and the Treaties would no longer apply on its territory … any European state which respects the principles set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union may apply to become a member of the EU. If the application is accepted by the Council acting unanimously, an agreement is then negotiated between the applicant state and the Member States on the conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties which such admission entails. This agreement is subject to ratification by all Member States and the applicant state.

Council Directive 97/78/EC of 18 December 1997 lays down the principles governing the organisation of veterinary checks on products entering the Community from third countries. This is supplemented by Regulation (EC) 882/2004, which organises official controls of food and feed so as to integrate controls at all stages of production and in all sectors.

This Directive applies to imports from third countries, specifically:

  • food products of animal origin;
  • animal feed;
  • plant products which may give rise to the risk of spreading infectious or contagious animal diseases; and
  • by-products not intended for human consumption.

All consignments of products from third countries shall be subjected to veterinary checks required by the Directive before being introduced into the European Union (EU). These checks shall be carried out at a border inspection post by the competent authority under the responsibility of the official veterinarian. The checks include:

  • a documentary check involving verification of the veterinarian certificates and documents or other documents accompanying the consignment;
  • an identity check to ascertain that the products correspond to the information given in the accompanying certificates or documents;
  • a physical check in order to ascertain that the products satisfy the requirements of EU legislation (packaging, temperature, sampling and laboratory testing). and

These checks can be largely mitigated by ensuring that products of animal origin come from “approved Third Country establishments”. The legal basis for the listing of Third Country establishments is provided by Regulation 854/2004. The relevant extract from Article 12 follows:

Article 12
List of establishments from which imports of specified products of animal origin are permitted

1. Products of animal origin may be imported into the Community only if they have been dispatched from, and obtained or prepared in, establishments that appear on lists drawn up and updated in accordance with this Article, except:
(a) when, on a case-by-case basis, it is decided, in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 19(2), that the guarantees that a specified third country provides in respect of imports of specified products of animal origin are such that the procedure provided for in this Article is unnecessary to ensure compliance with the requirements of paragraph 2;
and
(b) in the cases specified in Annex V.
In addition, fresh meat, minced meat, meat preparations, meat products and mechanically separated meat (MSM) may be imported into the Community only if they have been manufactured from meat obtained in slaughterhouses and cutting plants appearing on lists drawn up and updated in accordance with this Article or in approved Community establishments.

2. An establishment may be placed on such a list only if the competent authority of the third country of origin guarantees that:
(a) that establishment, together with any establishments handling raw material of animal origin used in the manufacture of the products of animal origin concerned, complies with relevant Community requirements, in particular those of Regulation (EC) No 853/2004, or with requirements that were determined to be equivalent to such requirements when deciding to add that third country to the relevant list in accordance with Article 11;
(b) an official inspection service in that third country supervises the establishments and makes available to the Commission, where necessary, all relevant information on establishments furnishing raw materials;
and
(c) it has real powers to stop the establishments from exporting to the Community in the event that the establishments fail to meet the requirements referred to under (a).

3. The competent authorities of third countries appearing on lists drawn up and updated in accordance with Article 11 shall guarantee that lists of the establishments referred to in paragraph 1 are drawn up, kept up-to-date and communicated to the Commission.

4. (a) The Commission shall provide the contact points that Member States have designated for this purpose with regular notifications concerning new or updated lists that it has received from the competent authorities of third countries concerned in accordance with paragraph 3.
(b) If no Member State objects to the new or updated list within 20 working days of the Commission’s notification, imports shall be authorised from establishments appearing on the list 10 working days after the day on which the Commission makes it available to the public.
(c) The Commission shall, whenever at least one Member State makes written comments, or whenever it considers that the modification of a list is necessary in the light of relevant information such as Community inspection reports or a notification under the rapid alert system, inform all Member States and include the point on agenda of the next meeting of the relevant section of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health for decision, where appropriate, in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 19(2).

5. The Commission shall arrange for up-to-date versions of all lists to be available to the public.

It is the nature of the EU that it has one external border for trade, and that any goods within that border can be freely traded between member states without further hindrance. At the moment, products of animal origin produced in member states, including those from Scottish producers, carry an oval marking which indicates that the food has been produced in an establishment approved under Regulation (EC) 853/2004. Those oval markings cannot be applied to Third Country products. This alone means that, at the very least, there is a great deal of work to be done if the trade in Scottish food with its largest markets in the EU is to continue after 26th March 2016.

At the absolute minimum, the EU will require to recognise the competence of the system of official controls in place in Scotland and agree that every food manufacturer currently approved under Regulation (EC) 853/2004 can transition to the status of an approved Third Country establishment. Additionally, every food producer will require to change their packaging and remove the oval “health mark” once Scotland is no longer a member of the EU, and any products already so labelled will no longer be permitted to be sold within the EU. Unless there is enormous good will from the EU institutions and considerable hard work in negotiating transitional arrangements. But, for sure, there is going to be a period of time when Scotland is outwith the EU in the case of independence and the peril to our farming and food production industry is serious – potentially catastrophically so – and so far ignored by the politicians.

As Professor Jo Shaw of Edinburgh University has said, all of these things are negotiable, but how much priority will the livelihoods of farmers, fishermen and food manufacturers receive in the vain-glorious charge to secession?

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3 thoughts on “Why there’ll be border controls at Gretna Green

  1. You are assuming that rUK will choose to remain within the EU. The Westminster government’s re-election strategy hinges on at least pretending that this is far from certain. Indeed, if Scotland votes NO and UK then votes OUT, Scotland would be dragged out of the EU against its people’s wishes.

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    • Paul, that’s another scenario, but slightly further down the track than what we might be confronted with in 2016. Personally, I think that Scottish independence remains unlikely, but it’s delusional for politicians to pretend that we can maintain freedom of trade across the English (or Northern Irish) border if we’re not an EU member when we secede from the UK.
      I’m a fervent European, and just wonder what the UK will do with all those ex-pats living in Spain that will have to come home if we leave the EU. Mind you, at least they’ll be spending their pensions at home.

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  2. Pingback: Behind the promise of a socialist utopia lie some uncomfortable truths #indyref | Patrick Mackie

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