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BREXIT

Bovril, tea… ham sandwiches: What can you bring back from the UK into your EU country?

It's not unusual for British nationals resident in Europe to slip a little taste of home into their suitcase as they return from trips to the UK - but some of these treats are now banned since Brexit. Here's a look and you can and can't fill your bag with.

Bovril, tea... ham sandwiches: What can you bring back from the UK into your EU country?
Customs officials could confiscate your packed lunch. Photo: AFP

A jar of Marmite, ‘proper’ tea bags, your mum’s home-made fudge – most Britons living in the EU have their favourite little treats from home that they either slip in their suitcase after a trip to the UK or ask friends and relatives to bring when visiting.

But since Brexit, imports from the UK now fall under the EU’s strict rules on foodstuffs and animal products.

While companies are battling with the complicated new processes for importing food, items that individual travellers bring with them when they cross the border also count as ‘imports’ and fall under the same rules.

Footage of Dutch customs officers confiscating the ham sandwiches of a driver newly-arrived from the UK has been widely shared, but in fact sandwiches are just one item on a long list of products that are no longer allowed.

So what are the rules?

These restrictions are not due to customs tariffs, but come under what is known as sanitary and phytosanitary rules – measures that aim to protect humans, animals, and plants from diseases, pests, or contaminants.

The EU has strict rules in place concerning animal health and welfare standards – so for example it does not allow imports of chlorinated chicken from the USA – and on chemicals and pesticides used in food or plants.

As with most Brexit regulations, these are not new rules, it is just the first time that people or goods arriving from the UK have been affected by them.

EU Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen said in speech shortly before the end of the transition period: “The reality is that the EU has the highest food safety standards in the world. Free circulation of animals and food is possible thanks to a stringent system of shared controls.

“When the UK leaves the EU, it will be confronted with an obstacle we got rid of a long time ago: borders.

“Borders are not there to add red tape or slow things down. They are there to ensure that the food we eat is not a danger for our citizens and to protect our animals and plants and thus our extremely valuable agricultural patrimony.” 

Who is affected?

The rules cover any goods brought into the EU. For businesses this means obtaining veterinary certificates for any animal product that they import – a complicated process that is being blamed for the empty shelves at Marks & Spencer stores in France and Ireland.

But they also cover individuals, even if you are just importing small amounts for your own personal use and even if – like the drivers in the video – you intend to consume the import imminently. 

The regulations also cover animal products sent by post – either ordered online or sent by individuals. Parcels containing prohibited items will be intercepted and destroyed at the border.

What can you bring in?

The restrictions on food cover anything that has meat or dairy in it.

So this covers products like ham, sausages and cheese, but also products that simply contain one of the above as part of their ingredients – which includes things like milk chocolate, fudge or fresh custard.

Covered by the prohibition on meat are; 

  • blood and blood products
  • bone
  • animal casing
  • lard and rendered fat
  • gelatine (which is found in jelly and some type of sweets)

In addition to meat and dairy, the following items are covered by the rules only if they are intended for human consumption. These are not the subject of a blanket ban, but have limits in place, usually 2kg per traveller – find the full rules here

  • eggs
  • honey and royal jelly
  • snails
  • live oysters or mussels

There are exemptions for limited amounts of baby milk, baby food or pet food.

So tea bags – that popular import by Brits the world over – are OK.

Marmite, which is vegan, is allowed but Bovril, which contains beef stock, is not (although Bovril has launched a vegan alternative which would be allowed in).

If you’re fond of classic British puddings like Angel Delight check that they don’t contain gelatine, which is a banned animal product.

Likewise a classic Christmas pudding or other suet puddings would be banned because of the presence of suet (although many stores now sell vegan Christmas puddings).

Most types of crisps are vegan (even the beef and prawn flavoured ones) likewise with Pot Noodles.

Bread is generally allowed (as long as it’s not spread with butter and made into a ham sandwich) but most types of biscuits and cakes are not.

Plants are also covered by the rules so this includes fresh fruit or vegetables which are banned, as are cut flowers.

READ ALSO Flowers, seedlings and bulbs – what are the rules on bringing plants into France from the UK?

Alcohol and tobacco are not restricted in this way, although there are limits on the amounts that you can bring in from outside the EU before you need to start paying excise duty – find the limits here. So if you want to bring English wine in to France, customs officials won’t stop you (although they will probably judge you).

Will customs be checking?

Yes – in total 2,000 new customs agents have been installed at the countries most affected – France, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Checks are likely to be strict in the next few weeks as everyone gets used to the new rules.

Member comments

  1. Moan, moan, moan. It’s exactly the same entering America and Australia and has been for years. They voted for Brexit so suck it up.

  2. Can you tell us what we will not be able to bring back from France…we enjoy packing the car with lots of local delicious things.

  3. Who is moaning? This article was just a useful list of what we cannot bring in which I for one appreciated. I suspect that not many people affected by this did vote for Brexit and are – like me – really saddened. America and Australia are not really relevant as we haven’t had nearly 50 years of freedom of movement and goods with them.

  4. We have felt penalised for the last 17 years, ever since we moved over to France, for choosing to live here. Brexit is a disaster and will make it worse. I am still waiting to hear what the advantages of Brexit are. Does anyone know ?

  5. On the front page summary it states that tea is not allowed, but in the txt above it says tea bags are ok – please clarify!

  6. The front page doesn’t actually say teabags aren’t allowed. it just gives a by-line of items saying basically, read on to see what is effected. OMG if the British in the EU couldn’t bring teabags, I think many would have to sell up and go back! Hope that clears thing up for you PennyB (on the teabag front at least)

  7. Will taking foodstuffs into the UK actually be equally regulated? After all, we will be taking items out of the EU, not bringing them in.
    Cakes and biscuits?? We’ll have to read the ingredients lists very closely.
    It’ll be hard to remember *not* to bring that bar of Dairy Milk and bag of Percy Pigs with you to eat on the Eurostar.
    And can someone tell me the point of vegan Bovril? Marmite & hot water presumably tastes the same.

  8. Pat – given the UK don’t make decisions (like closing their border to protect their citizens) but rather wait for everyone else to do things for them, I think you will be fine taking anything into the UK, provided you get past French customs on the way out.

  9. UK animal husbandry standards are higher than in the EU. At the very least there should be ‘mutual recognition’ as the EU does with New Zealand.

  10. I appreciate that Brexit does make a difference, but all of these products have been accepted in the EU since the UK joined, why within a few days have the supposed content of these products changed? OK six months down the line and the UK states that it isn’t going to enforce the disciplines that have obviously been in place then I’d understand. I would have voted to remain but this is just an example of the EU being, getting it’s own back! I do remember not being able to take a ham sandwich into NI, so long ago I can’t remember why!

    1. It’s the uk that has changed its position, the rules are the same, in fact the uk helped draw up these rules. Now the uk is a third country, without equivalence with the EU, this is what was the ” oven ready” deal. Therefore the uk can change its safety regulations and food safety standards at will, if the deal had included equivalence , non of this would be happening. The problems lay exclusively at the door of number 10.

  11. Les Philo:
    They had to make that cut right away,as any store in the UK could have changed the raw materials they used for their products, like chlorine chicken from the US.
    Its unlikely that is the case, but they had to draw that line on day one.

  12. But food from the Caribbean New Zealand South America South Africa Morocco Tunisia Turkey etc are all imported into the EU no problem.

  13. Les wrote “I appreciate that Brexit does make a difference, but all of these products have been accepted in the EU since the UK joined, why within a few days have the supposed content of these products changed? …..I would have voted to remain but this is just an example of the EU being, getting it’s own back!”. I don´t think so – it´s just the same rules and regulations applied to Britain by the EU as applied to any other non-EU country. Frictionless transport of goods is an essential part of the EU. Britain voted “out” – did people not realise what it actually meant? I do wonder if Britain had not prevented citizens resident in EU countries for 15 years voting in the 2016 referendum whether this would have affected the overall result. Welcome to the post-Brexit world everyone. But don´t blame the EU. “Be careful what you wish for”.

  14. Les wrote “I appreciate that Brexit does make a difference, but all of these products have been accepted in the EU since the UK joined, why within a few days have the supposed content of these products changed? …..I would have voted to remain but this is just an example of the EU being, getting it’s own back!”. I don´t think so – it´s just the same rules and regulations applied to Britain by the EU as applied to any other non-EU country. Frictionless transport of goods is an essential part of the EU. Britain voted “out” – did people not realise what it actually meant? I do wonder if Britain had not prevented citizens resident in EU countries for 15 years voting in the 2016 referendum whether this would have affected the overall result. Welcome to the post-Brexit world everyone. But don´t blame the EU. “Be careful what you wish for”.

  15. Any advice for diabetics crossing borders when many cafés etc might be closed – a sandwich can be a life-saver

  16. Hi can we take crisps into France ? I am only able to eat naked types ie no salt! So if not available in France , can I bring some ? Many thanks hopefully one day we will be back in the EU, if they will have us 😊

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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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