A decisive step?
19 March 2018. UK and EU announced at a Davis-Barnier press conference that a “decisive step” had been taken in the move towards an orderly exit for the UK from the EU. Large swathes of the withdrawal rules were agreed in principle at negotiator level.
Helpfully the EU has published a techni-colour coded document making clear the progress. Items without a fluorescent highlight are not yet agreed or close.
Questions in the House
Setting aside the Davis-Barnier press conference, 2 recent UK TV pieces forced UK Treasury Secretary to his feet in the House of Commons a few hours later to answer questions on the nature of the Customs border.
Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary told a Dover BBC Question Time audience on 15 March that “we don’t check lorries now and we won’t check them in the future“. Somewhat out of context, his was the message received by many and it prompted an urgent question in the House by Hilary Benn MP seeking clarity on what was meant by this.
Sky TV and Non Disclosure Agreements
We then add into the mix the short piece by SKY TV last Friday 16 March. Faisal Islam’s Brexit Forensics on Customs Borders revealed that a number of key private sector companies involved in border operations have signed HM Government Non Disclosure Agreements allowing detailed discussion on the future function of those borders post-Brexit. This also irked Members Of Parliament as it seems the private sector have been given insight into the nature of the future border plans.
In the exchange with MPs in the House on 19 March, Mel Stride MP , Treasury Secretary confirmed NDAs were in place but played down their importance saying they were normal in the circumstances to protect both trade confidentially as much as HM Government.
Quick Summary – where are we?
For all interested in the detail of how the logistics and Customs activities will work here is our quick summary of what we know so far.
Some is fact, the majority is UK ministerial assurance and intentions. These two are not quite the same thing . Never the less this is what we have at present:
First, on the EU Transition Agreement announcement 19 March 2018, 3 key points , all subject to final agreement by the European Council meeting on 22 March:
- UK granted a transition period from 1 April 2019 to 31 December 2020. During this time Customs rules will effectively remain “as today”.
- UK may seek trade agreements with non-EU countries before the end of the transition however they cannot be enacted until after Dec 2020.
- The Irish Border solution is not yet agreed.
Second,on Customs Border UK Government comment in the House 19 March 2018 ( Mel Stride MP – Financial Secretary to The Treasury in response to urgent question (16:20 onwards within the link) confirmed the following:
- The UK will leave the EU and will leave the EU Customs Union.
- Three strategic UK objectives have been set out: continued EU trade with frictionless as possible border. Avoid hard Irish border. An independent UK trade policy
- 2 models for Future Arrangements with Europe have been published. These are central to HM Government negotiating position.
- Informal discussions with EU27 Customs authorities have taken place to discuss borders but reality depends on outcome of negotiations.
- No return to any form of hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. No new infrastructure. No cameras.
- No circumstances where an EU Customs border will be accepted between parts of the UK. No border part way across the Irish Sea.
- Borders will be near-friction-less. HM Government is confident of this and that borders will be kept flowing.
- Pre-lodging of declarations,port inventory systems, number plate technology, cameras and CDS all form part of technology solution.
- Controlling Customs borders does not mean stopping every truck. Intelligence and technology lead interventions will be solution.
- Facilitation,technology investment (budget £3bn) plus Customs arrangements using targeted/risk based/audit approach will be used to manage borders.
- Technology at the border includes CDS. It is in testing now , goes live in August 18 and fully in use by January 19
- Customs solutions and facilities will be in place at the “appropriate time”. Many checks will be done at business facilities.
- Stoppages at Dover will not be required to extent that some people suggest. Stops will be inteligence lead,outside of the port.
- British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies will be covered by Transition agreement for Customs.
- HM Government are aware and place high priority on automotive supply chain and parts moving cross-channel multiple times.
- HMRC require 3000-5000 extra staff and they will be made available. £260m funding for HMRC to support recruitment and technology needs.
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