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Michael Gove admits Brexit will bring years of confusion at borders as trade checks imposed

Realities of leaving single market and customs union revealed to businesses - after controversy ducked during election campaign

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 10 February 2020 19:52 GMT
325 days until the end of the transition period

Michael Gove has admitted to years of confusion at Britain’s borders because of Brexit, with goods checks now “inevitable” – but a new IT system not ready until 2025.

In a speech to traders, the cabinet office minister laid bare the realities of leaving the single market and customs union after the controversy was avoided during the election campaign.

Warning “almost everybody” who exports to the EU will face new barriers, Mr Gove highlighted checks on food and goods of animal origin, customs declarations and the need for safety and security certificates.

“You have to accept we will need some friction,” he told businesses at the London event, adding: “We will minimise it, but it is an inevitability of our departure.”

The Freight Transport Association raised the alarm after Mr Gove insisted the checks must come in on 1 January 2021, at the end of the transition period – but it would be 2025 before new technology arrived.

“We are naturally disappointed that the promise of frictionless trade has been replaced with a promise that trade will be as seamless as possible but not until 2025,” said Elizabeth de Jong, its policy director

Traders would have cope with a “costly ‘make do and mend’ approach” until then she warned, although few details appeared to have been given.

During his successful election campaign, Boris Johnson was criticised for arguing he would “get Brexit done” by the end of January, largely ignoring the huge challenges to follow.

Now Mr Gove has acknowledged it is likely to take five years to deliver a smart border, allowing smooth online checks on goods, yet firms must be ready for “significant change” in under 11 months.

He told the event: “The UK will be outside the single market and outside the customs union, so we will have to be ready for the customs procedures and regulatory checks that will inevitably follow.

“As a result of that we will be in a stronger position, not just to make sure that our economy succeeds outside the European Union but that we are in a position to take advantage of new trading relationships with the rest of the world,” he claimed.

The checks will come in if Mr Johnson achieves his aim of a loose ‘Canada-style’ agreement with the EU – what used to be called a hard Brexit.

Ms de Jong added: “Gove put to rest [Chancellor Sajid] Javid’s assertion that industry had plenty of time to prepare. It is encouraging for industry that he said he does not underestimate what needs to be done.”

And Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, said: “We may not like what we are hearing, but if you get a clear message than you can plan.”

The five year wait for a smart border will pose the biggest challenge in the Irish Sea, where the withdrawal agreement made a legal commitment to introduce checks.

The prime minister has repeatedly denied they will be necessary – but the EU warned of sanctions if there was any backsliding.

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