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When will Defra publish its plans on VI-1 forms?

It’s been four months since the government announced that it was axeing plans to introduce the dreaded VI-1 forms, but with only six weeks until they are due to come into force – and just over three before Parliament goes on recess – when is Defra going to put its plans into action?

Red tape around a briefcase with european and british flags

In July, the government announced it would axe the VI-1 forms that had threatened to tie up wine imports to the UK in red tape and cost the industry around £130 million a year. The news was hailed as a victory for both the industry and for common sense over costly and needless bureaucracy. The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) called it “an historic win” and a “huge boost for producers, importers and consumers”, which would prevent the price of a bottle of wine increasing by around 13p, while Defra itself argued that it would remove “a significant burden on our wine trade”.

However, four months on, Defra have still not published a timeframe for this legislation and time is running out.

How did we get here?

The VI-1 certification process is used by the EU to certify that wine exported from a third country of origin wine into the EU complies with EU regulations and requires wines to be submitted for lab testing before shipping – which  was not to benefit the EU consumer, but to act as a technical trade barrier to protect EU wineries, according to senior fellow of the Adam Smith Institute Tim Ambler, writing on the Institute’s website.

However it was the Tories under Theresa May that made the VI-1 certification process necessary for wine coming into the UK by rolling over all EU regulations into UK law. This would have put a huge new burden onto producers and importers to the UK  – needlessly, as around 55% of the wine consumed in the UK is currently exported from the EU, according to the WSTA.

As a panellist at a joint-webinar hosted by the WSTA and marketplace Liv-ex said in July, the decision to impose the same rules that the EU imposes on third party countries to the UK itself was less “taking back control” as “shooting ourselves in the foot”.

The VI-1 certificates were originally intended to be required on 1 January 2021, but this was postponed twice, first until 1 July  and then until the end of December, before the government U-turn when it announced it would axe them completely.

Speaking to the drinks business in July, Neil Coyle MP, the Labour MP who co-chairs the APPG on Wine & Spirits, called on the government to provide the fine detail on its plans and publish as quickly as possible what it intended to do in order to do.

Where are we now?

Initially, there was some uncertainty about the way the government would remove the VI-1 forms, with implications as to how long this might take, however Defra has confirmed to db that this can be done via secondary legislation called a statutory instrument which can be effected in a short time-frame (primary legislation would have been more complex and taken longer). Thousands of these statutes go through Parliament each year and db has been informed that MPs haven’t objected to one in more than 50 yrs.  So if they put it through next week, it should automatically be rubber stamped – so why aren’t they making good on the promises?

In answer to a written Parliamentary question by Coyle on 18 August, Defra minister Victoria Prentis replied on 10 September, saying a consultation process had been launched with affected businesses and once that had been completed the government would “ensure that the necessary legislation is put in place as soon as possible.”

Last week Defra confirmed to db that it had considered the responses to the consultation and was in the process of developing the legislation to bring its proposals into law taking into accounts the views of stakeholders, and that this would come before Parliament before the end of the year. It said its legislative proposals will remove the requirement for VI-1 certification for imports of wine to Great Britain from 1 January 2022, thereby removing an existing technical barrier to the trade in wine, and saving the industry and consumers money.

However no date has been given, nor any details as to what, if being proposed.

In a statement to db in the last week, a Defra spokesman said: “The British wine industry delivers fantastic wines at great value from all around the world – and cutting this needless red tape will support jobs and investment, further reduce costs for business and open up our market to new international wines.”

“Ending the requirement for import certificates will cement Great Britain’s position as a global hub in the international wine trade.”

However, with only three weeks to go before Parliament breaks for Christmas, the clock is ticking.

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