IT will soon be eight years from the Brexit vote. Such was the shock of that outcome that it took another five years of political blood letting before the UK left the EU to become a third country with benefits.

The government has finally confirmed a key element will be completed in the coming months. From the end of April customs checks will begin on food and agricultural products coming into the UK from the EU.

This will be delayed until at least October for Ireland – the biggest supplier to UK supermarkets. And do not even ask how it will cope with food coming from the EU into the UK, via Northern Ireland.

For some Brexit supporters this will be a success – a sealing of borders on at least one front. However in reality it is only a victory for red tape building, which Brexit was supposed to be about reducing. It will add costs that will have to be picked up by hard pressed consumers and will increase the administrative burden on exporters and importers for no sound reason.

It comes years after the EU implemented customs controls on UK food, making the decision now an indictment of the government’s ability to even implement its own Brexit flagship policy. The EU has demonstrated a fairly light touch approach, but the UK approach over all our years of EU membership was to gold plate legislation to make it as tough as possible for business.

If it does so on EU imports the light touch approach by Brussels will be at risk. The NFU in England has already warned that the imposition of customs checks will be a direct threat to horticultural businesses that depend on a speedy import chain for seedlings.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of consequences from this decision.

Imposing customs checks flies in the face of everything the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says about as free as possible trade being the key to food security and sustainability. What the UK is doing is a poor example to other countries as the checks are rooted in a refusal to even consider a new free trade customs union with the EU.

This is on grounds of having to adhere to EU standards, which we do in any event, but this is the last fig leaf for Brexit supporters. To date, Brexit has had no impact on trade. The UK is still the EU’s biggest customer for food and this has not changed with Covid or Brexit.

The UK is also the biggest supplier of food into the EU and this has not changed through either of those events. The big difference is in the balance of trade, with the UK importing a lot more than it exports to the EU. The confusion from trade barriers has been intensified by the problems that flowed from the Northern Ireland protocol.

These were created by the bizarre Boris Johnson decision to drive his vision of Brexit purity by imposing a border down the Irish Sea, which has proved disastrous in practical and political terms. Trade within the UK is more difficult and now customs checks will make trade with the EU unnecessarily more complex.

Customs checks could have been an idea that would finally deliver Brexit benefits to farming and the food industry – but a key element is missing. For that to happen it would have to be linked to robust, imaginative policies to build a locally focussed food industry.

This would be rooted in short supply chains, quality, and the delivery of real environmental benefits as opposed to tick box net zero thinking from those with no understanding of how to secure a win-win situation for rural communities and the environment. That, sadly, is just a pipe dream, and instead, customs checks will only heap red tape on top of red tape.

A minister needs to stress it will be a light touch regulation, but then a Conservative party already jittery over Brexit failures is not going to hand its critics an open goal.

Like the fable of the Emperor’s Clothes it will continue pretending everything is ‘fine and grand’ when in reality it has failed since 2016 to take any advantage of the opportunities Brexit presented to be radical. Instead over customs duties and most other policy areas it has been forced to play catch up with the EU.