Michael Gove visits Holyhead port Photo: PA
Michael Gove has told businesses to get ready for "inevitable" border checks in the wake of Brexit and confirmed that the government would bring in import controls for all goods from the EU after the transition period ends on 31 December,
The Cabinet Office minister, who is expected to play a key role in planning for the end of the current transition period with the EU, said "almost everybody" would face extra barriers at the border.
Speaking at an event hosted by the government's Border Delivery Group for key stakeholders, Gove confirmed that traders from both the EU and Britain would have to submit customs declarations and face goods checks at the UK border.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
And he told businesses at the BDG meeting: “You have to accept we will need some friction. We will minimise it, but it is an inevitability of our departure. I don’t underestimate the fact that this is a significant change, but we have time now to make that change.”
The move has already sparked concern from some business groups, with the British Retail Consortium urging ministers to set out detailed plans to ensure that vital goods still flow to consumers even if there are delays at the border.
The group's director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie said: “Government will need to move fast if it intends to provide the necessary infrastructure to carry out full border controls on imported goods from January 2021.
“Without the necessary infrastructure up and running from day one, consumers in the UK will see significant disruption, particularly in the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables.
“Staff will need to be hired and trained to carry out these checks on the thousands of lorries that enter the UK every day.
“IT systems must be adapted and tested. Holding facilities for lorries, particularly at Dover and Folkestone, will need to be constructed.
“It is not enough to announce checks will take place, we must see plans now as to how this will be possible in practice, or it will be consumers who suffer on January 1."
The Freight Transport Association's UK policy director Elizabeth de Jong meanwhile said: “Gove put to rest [Chancellor] Sajid Javid's assertion that industry had plenty of time to prepare.”
She added: “As representatives of the logistics industry, 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, with a more realistic but costly 'make do and mend' approach to be employed until then.
“Industry will need the support of government during this period to keep Britain trading effectively.”
Ahead of the BDG meeting, HM Revenue and Customs announced it had extended the deadline for businesses to apply for customs support funding to 31 January 2021.
The scheme, first announced in September 2019, was originally planned to run until the end of last month but would now be extended to help companies pay for the training and technology they need to make customs declarations when importing and exporting goods between Great Britain and the EU
To date, applications have been made for around £18.5m out of a possible £26m– meaning there is at least £7.5m left to claim.
As well as supporting recruitment and improved IT capability, the money applied for so far could potentially fund nearly 15,000 training courses to help traders submit customs declarations.
Financial secretary to the Treasury Jesse Norman said: “The UK will be leaving the single market and customs union at the end of 2020, and businesses will need to prepare to submit customs declarations.
“Customs agents, freight forwarders and fast parcel operators can take advantage of the extended period by applying for grants to help them scale up and get ready.
“Customs processes can be handled by a business directly, but most businesses currently trading outside Europe use a customs agent.”