Boris Johnson intends to impose full customs checks on all goods coming into the UK from the EU in a break with previous government policy, according to reports.
“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,” the Daily Telegraph reported a senior Whitehall source as saying. “This will double the practical challenge at the border in January 2021.”
The paper reports that businesses will be informed of the policy on 10 February.
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This would be a complete departure from Theresa May’s policy. Last year in its no-deal planning, the government said it would waive customs checks and tariffs on 87% of the goods coming into the country and only impose limited checks on goods.
If confirmed, the new policy would mean physical checks on food such as tomatoes, cheese and meat coming in from the EU, including beef and dairy from Ireland, as well as paperwork on imports.
Such a dramatic change in policy could be seen as a hardening of position to gain leverage in upcoming negotiations as the trade-off between access to the single market and regulatory alignment will be a key element of talks.
“We are not doing the no-deal unilateral flow prioritisation any more, and that is a blanket move, across the board,” the source told the Telegraph. “It will have big practical impacts.”
The future of frictionless trade has been under question since the chancellor, Sajid Javid, said there will not be alignment.
Last Monday the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said it was not clear if he meant non-alignment on rules on standards or customs or both.
He said he hoped “our UK friends are reflecting carefully” on the matter because the EU would not agree to a close neighbour trying to seek an unfair advantage through subsidies to industry or a removal of stringent standards to cut costs.
On Friday, the prime minister declared that the UK had “recaptured our sovereignty and can truly deliver the changes people voted for in December” with the ability to “control immigration, create free ports, liberate our fishing industry, strike free trade deals and simply make laws which benefit the people of this great country”.
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Barnier will present his draft negotiating directives on Monday, as Brussels prepares to take a tough stance on defending its single market.
The prime minister is also expected to make a keynote speech on Monday, outlining some of his vision, with the UK’s negotiating objectives published in a fortnight.
It is expected that there will be 12 strands to the negotiations, which will cover trade, fisheries, security, data and services. These will run in parallel with meetings on a rolling three-week basis.
The prospect of full customs checks will alarm business groups, who have urged the government to ensure as little friction on cross-border trade as possible.
But it will also raise questions about Brexit preparedness and the ability of HMRC, ports and businesses to get ready for a new trading regime on 1 January 2021.
Pauline Bastidon, the head of European policy at the Freight Transport Association, said full checks would have “serious consequences for supply chains, and would be an unwelcome departure from the previous pragmatic approach”.
The car industry has repeatedly warned that its “just in time” and “just in sequence” manufacturing system would be compromised by border checks, leading to delays, a reduction in productivity and a threat to jobs.
Honda has previously told a select committee that a 15-minute delay at the border could add around £850,000 a year.
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