John­son ramps up pres­sure on EU

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Peter Fos­ter Europe Ed­i­tor

BORIS JOHN­SON is pre­par­ing to im­pose full cus­toms and bor­der checks on all Euro­pean goods en­ter­ing the UK af­ter Brexit, in a ramp­ing up of pres­sure on the com­ing EU-UK trade talks,

The Daily Tele­graph has learnt.

In a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from pre-elec­tion no-deal plan­ning that pri­ori­tised the smooth flow of goods from Europe,

White­hall de­part­ments have been told to pre­pare for im­pos­ing com­pre­hen­sive checks on EU im­ports.

The tough­ened ap­proach, which is de­signed to give Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tors greater lever­age against Brus­sels, came as the Prime Minister promised that Brexit would open an ex­cit­ing new chap­ter “in our great na­tional drama”.

In an ad­dress to the na­tion last night, he said: “For many people this is an as­ton­ish­ing mo­ment of hope, a mo­ment they thought would never come. And there are many, of course, who feel a sense of anx­i­ety and loss.

“I know that we can turn this op­por­tu­nity into a stun­ning suc­cess and what­ever the bumps in the road ahead, I know that we will suc­ceed. We have obeyed the people. We have taken back the tools of self-gov­ern­ment.

“Now is the time to use those tools to un­leash the full po­ten­tial of this bril­liant coun­try and to make bet­ter the lives of ev­ery­one in ev­ery cor­ner of our United King­dom.”

Justin Welby, the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury, called upon the na­tion to heal its di­vide in a mes­sage broad­cast yes­ter­day morn­ing.

He said: “For our fu­ture to work we must make it work to­gether. We must be united in a com­mon vi­sion for our coun­try.”

Mr John­son’s ad­dress to the na­tion came as Brex­i­teers gath­ered across the coun­try to cel­e­brate “Brexit hour”, at 11pm. Nigel Farage, the Brexit Party leader, hosted an event in Par­lia­ment Square, which was fes­tooned with Union flags for the oc­ca­sion.

In Brus­sels, the EU flag was low­ered out­side the UK’S Rep­re­sen­ta­tion to the Euro­pean Union with­out cer­e­mony, leav­ing the Union flag to fly alone.

But amid the cer­e­monies there was a clear flash of steel from both sides ahead of the “fu­ture part­ner­ship” ne­go­ti­a­tions which will start next month.

As Bri­tain ap­proached its de­par­ture, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pre­sented it with a bill for £1.09bil­lion, a re­cal­cu­la­tion of Bri­tain’s dues ow­ing to its im­proved econ­omy and VAT re­ceipts. The de­mand was sent to the Bri­tish em­bassy to the EU and the Gov­ern­ment has been no­ti­fied. EU sources said the bill was for 2019-20. Bri­tain’s pay­ment to Brus­sels for 2019 was nearly £9bil­lion. If the fig­ure is sim­i­lar this year, it could mean Bri­tain pay­ing up to £10bil­lion in what could be its fi­nal

pay­ment to the EU. As the clock ticked down to mid­night in Europe, An­gela Merkel, the Ger­man chan­cel­lor, called Brexit a “sea change” for the bloc, while Ur­sula von der Leyen, the EU Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent, echoed Mr John­son. “Now we open an­other chap­ter. It is a story of old friends and new be­gin­nings,” she said.

In a spe­cially-con­vened Cabi­net meet­ing in Sun­der­land, the first place to de­clare for Brexit at the ref­er­en­dum, min­is­ters dis­cussed the Gov­ern­ment’s fu­ture trade agenda. Talks in­cluded the de­sire for a Canada-style free trade agree­ment with the EU that will ne­ces­si­tate cus­toms checks.

Prepa­ra­tions for the fu­ture EU-UK trad­ing re­la­tion­ship are now poised to shift into a higher gear, in a move that is likely to shock many busi­nesses, in­clud­ing hauliers, lo­gis­tics com­pa­nies and su­per­mar­ket chains.

“We are plan­ning full checks on all EU im­ports – ex­port dec­la­ra­tions, se­cu­rity dec­la­ra­tions, an­i­mal health checks and all su­per­mar­ket goods to pass through bor­der in­spec­tion posts,” said a se­nior White­hall source with knowl­edge of the plans. “This will dou­ble the prac­ti­cal chal­lenge at the bor­der in Jan­uary 2021.”

Trade groups re­sponded with shock at the change of tack, warn­ing that the plans risked cre­at­ing huge lo­gis­ti­cal bot­tle­necks, su­per­mar­ket short­ages and price rises. In­dus­try chiefs are due to be told of the plans in a meet­ing with Michael Gove, the Chan­cel­lor of the Duchy of Lan­caster, and se­nior of­fi­cials on Feb 10.

Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tors hope the move will in­crease their lever­age by rais­ing the cost of a “WTO exit” for the EU.

A se­nior EU source re­jected the idea. “We saw sim­i­lar threats from Theresa May, but frankly we never be­lieved them. And if the UK is ac­tu­ally ready for bor­der checks – which are in­deed com­ing – then so much the bet­ter for both sides,” the source said.

Se­nior White­hall sources said that

Down­ing Street had al­ready is­sued in­struc­tions for all White­hall de­part­ments to gear up for full checks in a pro­gramme to be over­seen by a com­mit­tee of se­nior of­fi­cials and HMRC’S Bor­der De­liv­ery Group.

The de­ci­sion marks a se­ri­ous de­par­ture from the pre­vi­ous no-deal plan­ning stance, which promised only light checks on EU im­ports to en­sure that goods kept flow­ing.

One trade chief said the UK “might as well put the barbed wire up” if it was de­ter­mined to press ahead with the plans, given the lack of phys­i­cal space at ports for in­spec­tion fa­cil­i­ties. A sec­ond noted Mr Gove had said that Bri­tain wanted a trade re­la­tion­ship based on the Eu-canada deal, but that re­quired one in 10 of all an­i­mal prod­ucts to have phys­i­cal checks. “The borders won’t work if you have to run th­ese

‘If main­tain­ing the flow of goods into the UK is no longer the pri­or­ity, it would have se­ri­ous con­se­quences’

types of pro­cesses,” the source said.

Pauline Basti­don, the head of Global and Euro­pean Pol­icy at the Freight Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion, said that, if the Gov­ern­ment was tak­ing this ap­proach, it would need to pri­ori­tise trade fa­cil­i­ta­tion mea­sures in the com­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions, par­tic­u­larly on agri-foods.

“If this is re­ally go­ing to be the ap­proach, and main­tain­ing the flow of goods into the UK is no longer the pri­or­ity, it would have se­ri­ous con­se­quences for sup­ply chains,” she added.

Those fears were echoed by Andrew Opie, di­rec­tor of food and sus­tain­abil­ity at the Bri­tish Re­tail Con­sor­tium, who warned of po­ten­tially higher costs. He said: “The BRC has long been clear that checks at Dover and Folke­stone would have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on pro­duce in our stores. Al­most all fresh pro­duce comes through that route and there is no suit­able al­ter­na­tive.”

Brexit sup­port­ers cel­e­brate in Par­lia­ment Square as the long-awaited mo­ment ar­rives

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