POST-Brexit border checks on some EU imports to Britain are to be delayed because of disruption caused by coronavirus, Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister, has announced.

The UK Government had agreed to phase in customs requirements for imports to Britain from the EU over a six-month period but has extended the timetable after businesses said they needed more time to prepare.

Full border control processes will now be introduced on January 1 2022; six months later than originally planned.

Mr Gove told MPs that the initial timetable was based on the impacts of the first wave of coronavirus but explained: “We know now that the disruption caused by Covid has lasted longer and has been deeper than we anticipated.”

In a written statement, the Chancellor of the Ducjy of Lancaster said: “Although we recognise that many in the border industry and many businesses have been investing time and energy to be ready on time, and indeed we in Government were confident of being ready on time, we have listened to businesses who have made a strong case that they need more time to prepare.

“In reviewing the timeframes, we have given strong weight to the disruption which has been caused, and is still being caused, by Covid, and the need to ensure that the economy can recover fully.”

Under the revised timetable, pre-notification requirements for products of animal origin, certain animal by-products and High Risk Food Not Of Animal Origin will not be required until October 1 2021.

Customs import declarations will still be required but the option to use the deferred declaration scheme has been extended to January 1 2022.

And from March 2022, checks at border control posts will take place on live animals and low-risk plants and plant products.

Lord Frost, who is the minister for post-Brexit trade, said: “As a sovereign trading nation outside the EU, we have freedom to take decisions in our national interest and in the interest of our businesses.

“We will now introduce border controls broadly six months later than planned to give traders time to focus on getting back on their feet as the economy opens up after a difficult year.

“We are confident that this new timetable will allow import businesses to re-establish their trading arrangements after a difficult period due to coronavirus, in the most straightforward and lightest touch way possible.”

However, Jack Dromey for Labour’s said: "This chopping and changing of rules by the Government smacks of ill-preparedness and incompetence.

"They have had years to prepare for this but can't stop missing their own deadlines. It is no wonder that the Trade Secretary herself has warned of chaos."

He added: "The Government need to pull their sleeves up, listen to businesses who have been desperately coming forward with practical solutions, and get this sorted."

The Government move came as the food industry warned of further barriers to trading with the EU and Northern Ireland, which largely follows Brussels’ rules under the terms of the Brexit deal.

Measures coming into force on April 21 will require a far wider range of goods sent to the bloc from “third countries” such as the UK to have an export health certificate.

Ian Wright for the Food and Drink Federation said: “Right now, we don’t know how many products will be affected because the EU hasn’t been specific yet or definitive on what the list will include.

“But it will include a whole range of what are called composite products – things like cheese and onion crisps and indeed items like chocolate biscuits – which will need…a vet’s stamp and an export health certificate and an attestation as to where the milk in the product was pasteurised.”

He told the BBC: “It will mean, particularly in relation to Northern Ireland, that many exporters will just decide it’s not worth the candle.”

Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said he welcomed the delay but said it could “only be a temporary solution”.

He explained: “What businesses want to see is an end to the damaging political rhetoric from both sides, and a focus on improving border flow for the long term.

“The UK and the EU must get back around the table and thrash out the remaining structural problems in the Trade and Co-operation Agreement. For some UK firms, the continued problems with EU trade are threatening their very existence.

“It should not be the case that companies simply have to give up on importing from, or exporting to, the market next door,” added Mr Marshall.

Andrew Opie, Director of Food and Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said he was “pleased that the Government has listened to us and postponed border checks until the systems and border posts are ready”.

“With many of the key Border Control Posts currently little more than a hole in the ground, the six- month easement comes in the nick of time.”

He went on: “Until the infrastructure is in place, with IT systems ready and established processes for checks and paperwork, it would be foolhardy to introduce full requirements for EHC documentation, pre-notification of imports, physical checks and more.

“We welcome the Government’s decision, which will ultimately reduce the impact on consumers from April 1, who might otherwise have seen empty shelves for some products.

“Government must not rest on its laurels, and the next six months must be used to establish and communicate the new systems with UK retailers and EU suppliers,” he added.