Britain formally rejects Brexit extension as Michael Gove confirms border checks u-turn
Michael Gove said the shift would give businesses ‘impacted by coronavirus time to adjust.‘
Britain has formally notified the European Union that it will not extend the Brexit transition period — as Michael Gove confirmed a major shift in the UK’s stance on border checks from next year.
The Cabinet Office minister, who has been leading talks on the withdrawal agreement signed by the two sides last year, on Friday told EU officials that Britain will not seek an extension to the arrangement when it runs out on 31 December.
The discussions marked the last formal moment at which the UK could agree an extension to the transition period, which currently sees it bound by EU rules while the two sides thrash out a post-Brexit agreement.
But the Government has also confirmed that new border controls on goods coming into the UK from the EU will not now kick in in January, claiming that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic means phasing in the measures will be better.
Mr Gove said: “We have informed the EU today that we will not extend the Transition Period. The moment for extension has now passed.
“At the end of this year we will control our own laws and borders which is why we are able to take the sovereign decision to introduce arrangements in a way that gives businesses impacted by coronavirus time to adjust.
“Today's announcement is an important step towards getting the country ready for the end of the Transition Period, but there is still more work to be done by both government and industry to ensure we are ready to seize the opportunities of being a fully independent United Kingdom.”
The Government had previously been adamant that goods coming in from the EU will face the same customs checks as those from other countries from January 1.
But, under the new plans — dubbed “flexible and pragmatic” by the Government — the checks regime will be brought in in three stages up until July 1 next year.
From January 2021, all traders importing standard goods from the EU such as clothes and electronics will only need to “prepare for basic customs requirements”, including keeping records of their imports.
They will have a six-month window to complete customs declarations,
and tariff payments can be deferred. Controlled goods such as alcohol and tobacco will continue to be checked, as will live animals and plants.
Then, from April 2021, all importers and exporters of products of animal origin — which includes meat and dairy products — as well as regulated plant products will be expected to use a pre-notification system and provide health documentation.
In the final phase, kicking in in July, all traders will be asked to make customs declarations and pay tariffs.
By this point, the Government also wants those importing and exporting to make full safety and security declarations and is promising an increase in physical checks on animal and plant products at British border control posts.
The Government is meanwhile stumping up an extra £50m to “boost the capacity of the customs intermediary sector”, with a push to hire customs brokers and other staff ahead of the July push.
Ministers are also planning new border facilities in Britain to carry out the checks, with posts inland if ports lack the space.
The u-turn on day-one border checks has already been welcomed by the British Ports Association, which said: “Across the board the freight industry has been telling government that it will not be ready.
“The risk of doing nothing could have led to issues for much of our trade with Europe, including severe congestion at ports.
“Delays and additional costs for freight operators get passed on and ultimately this sensible and pragmatic decision will mean British manufacturers and consumers are not faced with the increased expenditure, at least until a more formal border operating model is agreed by industry and Government.”
But critics of the Government’s Brexit plans pounced on the latest concession — and hit out at the decision not to extend the transition period.
Naomi Smith of the Best for Britain campaign group said: "We need to focus on one crisis at a time. The Government must to rethink its position on this and give Britain the flexibility it needs."
Ed Davey, the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said figures released on Friday confirming a month-on-month 20% hit to the UK economy made the case for extending the transition period.
“These stats confirm we face the most serious economic challenge in generations,” he said.
“Not a time to exit the world’s largest market. Not a time to increase trade barriers. Not a time to deny business skills they need with a damaging new immigration system.”