Brexit: Blame EU ‘rules are rules’ approach if there is border chaos, Michael Gove says

Cabinet Office minister attacks refusal to adopt a ‘laissez-faire approach’ to border controls

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 25 November 2020 12:16 GMT
Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?

The EU will be to blame if Brexit causes border trading chaos in January because of its “rules are rules” approach, Michael Gove says.

The refusal to adopt a “laissez-faire approach” – unlike the UK, which has postponed full border controls for six months – was sharply criticised by the Cabinet Office minister.

Mr Gove also offered a hostage to fortune by suggesting there would be only “two to three weeks” of disruption – before “steady, smooth and effective operation of our border systems” begins.

Mr Gove, speaking to the Logistics UK group, representing hauliers, admitted there would “inevitably be some disruption” in Kent – which has the busiest Channel ports – saying: “Not everything will be alright on the night.”

It will be caused by the UK’s decision to leave the EU single market and customs union – a so-called hard Brexit – regardless of whether a trade agreement is reached for 1 January.

But Mr Gove pointed to the UK’s “staged approach on our side of the border”, arguing: “The one thing that I can't do is to determine what's going to happen on the other side of the border.

“And we know, from the approach that the EU have taken and the approach that the Commission generally takes that their view is rules are rules.

“When it comes to the checks that will be applied, they are going to apply them – I hope not in an overly-rigid way – but it is certainly going to be the case that we cannot expect a sort of laissez-faire, or flexible, approach at Calais, or in other ports.

“We've got to be ready for the requirements that they have been clear apply to all third countries.”

There fears of two-day delays for lorries to reach France, with a majority thought to be unprepared for new checks, creating the risk of queues of up to 7,000 lorries snaking through Kent.

A mountain of new red tape will be needed, including a movement reference number for each product, a safety and security declaration, export health certificates and phytosanitary certificates.

Ministers will ease the pressure by ordering hauliers to obtain a “passport for Kent” – an access permit to enter the county – with £300 fines for those with the wrong paperwork.

On Tuesday, queues of trucks suddenly stretched for five miles across Kent, after the French started a trial of the post-Brexit check required in just five weeks’ time.

Mr Gove told the seminar he hoped for a breakthrough on Irish Sea trading rules – which will be required in both directions on 1 January – “in the next week or so”.

And, on cross-Channel trade, he predicted “traffic will rise” from 4 January, after the bank holiday weekend – but argued borders “will settle to a new normal” within a few weeks.

And he blamed “the media” for suggestions that government is blaming businesses for a failure to prepare, insisting that was not the case.

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