Dutch government hires nearly 1,000 customs officials to prepare for 'no deal' Brexit

Political turmoil in the UK is concerning countries on the continent

Jon Stone
Brussels
Wednesday 18 July 2018 14:41
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Indy Brexit Debate: UK will have 'state of emergency if there is no deal' says Dominic Grieve

The Dutch government has completed the hiring of nearly 1,000 new customs officers to prepare for a looming “no deal” Brexit, according to a senior official in the country.

Pieter Omtzigt, the rapporteur on Brexit for the Dutch parliament, confirmed the recruitment had taken place – as weeks of turmoil linked to Theresa May’s new plan for exiting the EU paralyse the British government and raise the prospect of the UK crashing out of the bloc.

“As you may be aware, the Netherlands are, after Germany, the second trading partner with the UK within the EU – even before France, for example,” Mr Omtzigt, a Christian Democrat MP told the BBC.

“That means that because of the political uncertainty within the UK, I asked my government a year ago to start hiring new customs officials. They’ve hired almost a thousand customs officials just in case Britain crashes out.

“We’re a trading nation; we cannot afford our customs system to completely get stuck because from one day to the next we also have to check all the British exports of goods and services. We also hired veterinary officials because if you crash out, you also have that problem.”

Dutch port officials told The Independent this year the Netherlands’ customs authorities were aiming to hire between 750 and 930 officials – suggesting the number actually hired is right at the upper end of that early estimate as talks look increasingly likely to fail.

On Friday, ministers from the remaining 27 EU states are expected to be presented with a dossier drawn up by the European Commission laying out how to plan for a “no deal” Brexit.

We cannot afford our customs system to completely get stuck because from one day to the next we also have to check all the British exports

Pieter Omtzigt, Dutch parliament Brexit chief

The Netherlands has been amongst the best prepared EU member states regarding Brexit, with ports like Rotterdam and hub airports like Schipol planning significant physical changes to accommodate the extra checks likely to slow down trade following Britain’s departure.

Preparations in the UK are behind schedule for a “no deal” scenario, with huge overflow lorry parks needed to accommodate freight in Kent not expected to be completed in time if Britain does crash out.

Mr Omtzigt was scathing at the UK’s lack of preparations for its Brexit talks and the timing of the white paper outlining the nation’s Brexit ambitions: “I share concerns that it’s a bit late in the day, that one year and four months after tabling the Article 50 notification, the UK makes a proposal.

The port of Rotterdam is planning to make significant changes for Brexit

“I think it’s a proposal that’s a good starting point for negotiations – but it’s a proposal to start negotiations. It would have been helpful that that had been on the table the day the negotiations started.”

Ms May has repeatedly said “no deal is better than a bad deal” and threatened to lead the UK off an economic cliff edge if she does not get her way in talks with the EU.

Asked whether the UK was hiring more customs officers, cabinet office minister David Lidington said: “I think that all governments, including the United Kingdom government, have to plan for all contingencies.”

He added: “We’ll be making more public comment about our “no deal” preparations over the weeks to come and [secretary of state for exiting the European Union] Dominic Raab will be leading on that. There is a lot of work that’s been going on behind the scenes.”

The European Commission has repeatedly said border checks will be required for either customs or single market regulations if the UK is outside the single market and customs union.

The UK white paper on Brexit released at the start of the month proposed a system for frictionless trade that kept Britain outside the customs union and single market, but the idea appears to cross a number of EU red lines, with some officials suggesting it is unworkable, though possibly a good starting point for negotiations which are now entering their final three months.

The EU’s deadline for coming up with a withdrawal agreement to prevent Britain crashing out is in October, with the UK set to exit in March, barring any extension of the Article 50 negotiating process.

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