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Analysis

Take back control of borders… by throwing open borders?

by Luke Lythgoe | 16.03.2018

The government’s plan is to “not stop lorries in the port of Dover” for customs checks, Chris Grayling said on the BBC’s Question Time last night. But the transport secretary’s scheme is unworkable – at least if the government sticks to its plan to pull us out of the EU’s customs union. It’s no wonder that companies consulted on it were gagged.

Businesses who use the border have been giving evidence to the Border Planning Group, a cross-government committee of senior officials. They were made to sign non-disclosure agreements, Sky News revealed.

In order to avoid tailbacks of up to 30 miles long at Dover, the government is ready to “throw open the borders” in the case of a no-deal Brexit, one operator told Sky. This involves the UK unilaterally deciding not to enforce customs checks on day one of Brexit. It is also based on the implausible assumption that the EU will do the same.

When contacted by InFacts, the Department for Transport said Grayling was referring to “routine checks”, and that we “don’t check every lorry now, and we won’t check every lorry in the future”. But that’s because we’re in the EU now. We accept that our customs border is the EU’s external border.

Such a light-handed approach after Brexit wouldn’t work for a whole host of reasons.

First, it means turning a blind eye to people smuggling contraband.

Second, if the EU’s and UK’s product regulations diverged after Brexit then you would end up with two sets of standards for goods on the UK market. Would the UK government accept this, perhaps reasoning that EU standards are high enough? What if the UK chose to introduce more stringent standards?

Third, what if the EU did a deal with another country allowing in its cheap, sub-standard goods? Would we be happy if these flooded into our market too with no controls?

Whatever half-cocked solution the government opted for, you can be sure the EU would demand products coming into its territory were checked. Maintaining the integrity of its single market has been an overriding concern of the EU’s throughout the Brexit negotiations. Unless France was happy to have a giant holding pen for lorries in Calais, trucks would be held up on the roads to Dover until the French authorities were ready to process them.

And this won’t just be a problem if there’s no deal. Any deal that takes us out of the customs union will involve border checks. Of course, the government is refusing to admit this. Grayling argued that we could manage trade electronically. “Trucks will move through the border without stopping… In the way it happens between Canada and the US.” The snag is he’s not on top of his facts. The average waiting times for commercial vehicles at three major US-Canada crossings was between 16 and 28 minutes compared to two minutes at Dover.

Grayling’s blase attitude is shocking. Not only are ministers courting economic disaster; by throwing open our borders they are back-peddling on the central promise of the referendum vote: to take back control. If voters feel duped, they have the right to put the brakes on Brexit.

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    Edited by Hugo Dixon

    4 Responses to “Take back control of borders… by throwing open borders?”

    • You say “The snag is he’s not on top of his facts.” If you ever listen to the questions asked by MPs at the various committees, you will soon realize that very few of them are on top of the facts. In their ignorance of anything even mildly technical they assume that our technical experts will be able to solve the impossible…accounting for many of the failed IT projects. What our MPs are good at is presenting a confident style when in fact they have not got a clue. We shall watch the border issues with great interest.

    • I just cannot understand how and why the normally sensible British public has not woken up to what is being done to them. They were totally misled by the Brexit campaign (neither side covered itself in glory). Now, we are discovering the Brexiteers had no objective evidence to support their claims. As reality dawns and the people begin to properly understand what is at stake, in the name of democracy, it must be right that we are allowed to decide whether we still want Brexit. The Brexiteers never expected to win. Having won on a campaign of disinformation they are now petrified of the possibility that, given a chance to reconsider, another referendum would produce a very different outcome. If they are convinced they have shown Brexit will be good for the country and the electorate still want Brexit, why are they opposed to another referendum ? This is scandalous. We must all now defend democracy by insisting on our right to make an informed decision when we know the facts.

    • It is becoming increasingly clear that the government are moving towards an approach that depends upon the assumption that the EU can always be relied upon to maintain standards which will be acceptable to the UK and therefore the absence of additional checks at the UK borders is a risk that can be taken. The idea would be to throw down the gauntlet to the EU and blame them for any (perfectly understandable) restrictions they feel are needed on their side. I do not think it is unfair to suggest that any dilution of standards is much more likely to be on the UK side, given the concessions which are likely to be demanded from the USA and others from whom new trade deals are sought. Already it would appear that the UK is going to accept full freedom of movement of EU citizens at the Irish border.

      None of this is consistent with promises to “take back control” of our borders. Maybe the leavers should be joining with remainers in demanding a referendum on the final deal.

    • It would be beyond credibility to believe that Grayling is so naive to think that the EU would simply allow goods and persons to proceed through the border much as today, if the Government maintains its foolhardy position of us being outside the customs union. He therefore must be hoping that the EU can be portrayed as the bogeymen for the ensuing delays and traffic tailbacks.
      Clearly the credibility and functioning of the customs union, one of the great success stories of the EU, is dependant on there being robust check points along its external boundaries. There will not be a single member of the EU27 who would dispute the need for that.
      Even our continued memberhip of the European Economic Area (EEA) would solve so many of the headaches for freight traffic and individual travellers, but as the saying goes, there are none so deaf as those who will not listen.