The UK has confirmed that major European mineral water brands like Evian and Perrier will lose their automatic right to export to Great Britain from January next year.
The mineral water giants, which also includes San Pellegrino and Volvic, will now have to jump through a series of hoops to be allowed to ship their products to Great Britain, after the end of a post-Brexit transition period.
It was suggested in February that mineral water accreditation could be withheld by the UK government as a tit-for-tat response to the EU banning British shellfish.
Environment secretary George Eustice wrote to the EU’s food safety czar Sandra Gallina today to say “all natural mineral waters which obtained their recognition as a member state will no longer be authorised for import into England” unless they are given accreditation by UK regulators.
It comes after the UK and EU brokered a truce over the so-called sausage wars just days ago, meaning chilled meats can still be sent from Great Britain to Northern Ireland until September.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We’ve worked with all the major suppliers to give them support and notify them of changes.”
European water exporters are being told by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to contact either the department, Food Standards Scotland or the Food Standards Agency in Wales to continue to ship their products next year.
A Defra source said applications will be assessed on a first come first, served basis.
The water brands will still be able to export to Northern Ireland without fresh accreditation as it still follows the EU’s customs union and single market rules.
Senior Whitehall sources said earlier this year that “there is thought being given to where we can leverage in other areas” as a response to the EU shellfish ban, including mineral water access.
Dr Alexandre Nobajas, lecturer in human geography and geographic information systems at Keele University, said the fact mineral water from the EU has been okay to sell up in the UK until now “indicates this has very little to do with mineral water, it is a political bargaining tool”.
“Mineral water both in the EU and the UK is an extremely regulated business that guarantees high product standards, so there is no need to further complicate its sale with more red tape,” he said.
“If mineral water is to be used as a bargaining tool to pressure the EU about other issues, the government can come up with a further set of rules that may make it difficult -or even impossible- to import EU water.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “This update provides producers six months’ notice of the changes, and outlines all the necessary steps they need to take to continue to sell their mineral water in Great Britain. We will continue to engage with the industry to ensure a smooth transition.”