Johnson ramps up pressure on EU
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