Johnson’s Brexit plans slammed as trade secretary reportedly warns of looming risks to UK reputation
LONDON: As the UK is poised to leave EU trading and customs rules at the end of the year, the government announced in June that full border controls would not be applied on goods until July 2021, with Business Insider reporting the plan had elicited serious concerns among business groups, which slammed it as a “disaster” for firms trading with the EU.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit border plans have been criticised as running the risk of unleashing smuggling and ultimately undermining the country’s international credibility, reported Business Insider.
The nation’s international trade secretary Liz Truss allegedly issued the warning in a letter penned to Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove on Wednesday, voicing concerns over four “key areas” pertaining to the mapped-out plans for the border next January.
“Dear Rishi and Michael, I am writing to you to set out my key areas of concern on border policy and readiness for the end of the transition period and to seek your assurance that the concerns will be addressed,” reportedly says the letter, which was leaked to Business Insider.
Truss is cited as having written the cautionary letter ahead of a “border operating model publication on 13 July when the UK’s proposals for the border will come under renewed scrutiny both on the domestic and international stage”.
Britain would be introducing border checks with the European Union in phased stages over six months as of 1 January, backtracking on the original plan where the UK planned to introduce import controls on EU goods at the border once a status-quo transition period with the EU expired on 31 December. In line with the new Brexit border regime unveiled by Michael Gove in June, companies struggling with the coronavirus health crisis would be granted more time to fill out forms and pay tariffs.
Liz Truss reportedly warns the “staged approach” would “be vulnerable” to legal challenges by the World Trade Organisation (WHO).
According to the Secretary of State for International Trade, the WHO could object to plans to allow goods coming in from the EU to be subject to a different treatment than those arriving from elsewhere, which are already subject to tariffs and quotas.
Truss also cites fears over smuggling problems, warning this could become a major issue as all goods coming into the UK at borders from 1 January would not be subject to full checks.
“I would like assurances that we are able to deliver full control at these ports by July 2021 and that plans are in place from January to mitigate the risk of goods being circumvented from ports implementing full controls,” says the letter written reportedly by Truss.
In a third issue highlighted as worrying by the official, traders from outside the EU could take advantage of the lack of controls during the “phased approach” and get their goods across the border without tariffs or checks.
Finally, the fourth concern deals with a proposed system for checks on goods sent by traders across the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
All goods going to Northern Ireland from elsewhere in the world could have the EU tariff applied by default as of 1 January, Truss allegedly says, as the digital system for applying both UK and EU tariffs is not expected to be ready on time.
“I understand that the digital delivery of the dual tariff system (both EU and UK tariff) in Northern Ireland is a high risk and that HMRC are planning to apply the EU tariff as a default to all imports in NI on 1 January 2021,” Truss reportedly writes, concerned that the issue might anger unionists in the province.
The outlet quotes the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium’s Aodhan Connolly responding to the letter by saying:
“If true, a plan to implement EU tariffs as a default provides unprecedented problems to retailers who trade in Northern Ireland.”
Liz Truss is believed to have concluded by saying:
“We need to ensure that the UK border is effective and compliant with international rules, maintaining our credibility with trading partners, the WTO and with business.”
The cited letter comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is set to publish its full Brexit border plans as of 1 January on 13 July, with the government dismissing the current report, saying: