The UK government has said it will once again postpone post-Brexit border checks on goods arriving from the European Union, drawing the ire of British business groups who warn the delay will burden them with additional costs.

The UK unveiled its border target operating model (BTOM) this week, saying the new “world class” regime would overhaul how Britain processes imports from both the EU and further afield.

The model promises to reduce the amount of data importers supply for safety and security checks, used by UK border officials to stop the entry of illicit items such as drugs and guns. It also takes a “risk-based approach” to sanitary and phytosanitary controls for animal and plant imports.

But Downing Street adds it will delay the implementation date for the border model from October until January 2024, meaning yet another postponement of import controls on EU animal and plant-based goods.

The government has now put off such checks a total of five times since 2021, when the UK left the single market and Brussels imposed equivalent controls on British goods.

“It’s hugely frustrating for many producers that the government has yet again delayed the implementation of vital checks on goods entering from the EU,” says National Farmers Union (NFU) president Minette Batters.

“For the past three years, our farmers have faced the full reach of EU controls on our exports while the EU has enjoyed continued easy access to the UK marketplace,” she says, adding that delaying import controls for the EU could also pose biosecurity threats.

While some industry figures acknowledge the relatively short delay, they note potential challenges for members who had aligned their operations with previous deadlines for EU import checks.

“[Our members] have been cautious with any government announcements setting out new dates and an implementation timetable for the BTOM, and will remain so, as uncertainties remain,” says Steve Parker, director general of the British International Freight Association (BIFA).

The move comes amid growing concern that importers need more time to prepare for the new system, and fears – even within government – that introducing checks on EU goods may accelerate inflation of food prices.

As reported by the Financial Times earlier in August, the delay was endorsed by UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who cited growing concern within Downing Street that the move would push up costs, particularly within food supply chains. Traders had also asked for more time to adjust to the system.

Government data published this week estimates the scheme could drive food prices up by 0.2% over three years, though it says this rise is “minor” and will only have a small impact on inflation.

Some business groups have welcomed the UK government’s decision to delay the launch, however, arguing it will give companies time to adjust to the new digital system and checks on EU goods.

“Businesses will be pleased with this clarity as they prepare for the challenging shift to a digital trade system,” says William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce. He adds the new digital approach can bring “real benefits” to SMEs and the “focus must now be on delivering the single trade window”.

The UK single trade window will enable traders to file import and export data through one digital gateway, a move the British government says will mean information only needs to be submitted by traders once and in one place, “removing complexity and duplication from the system”.

The UK government claims the system’s technology-based approach will reduce paperwork and data duplication, saving businesses around £520mn a year compared to the original import model.

Other industry figures have praised the “risk-based” nature of BTOM, which will see the government categorise animals and plants as high, medium or low risk, based on product origin and type.

“It is [clear the] government has acted upon our long-standing concerns and will now implement a unique border approach for the benefit of consumers and industry,” says the FPC, a fresh produce association. Edible fresh produce will not be subject to UK border inspections.

FPC adds the final version of the regime will minimise supply chain disruption and reinforce biosecurity measures.