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Fri, 4 December 2020

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Liz Truss warns Boris Johnson over post-Brexit border plans in leaked letter

Liz Truss warns Boris Johnson over post-Brexit border plans in leaked letter

The International Trade Secretary outlined her concerns over the January 1 proposals. (PA)

3 min read

Cabinet minister Liz Truss has expressed a string of concerns about the UK’s post-Brexit border plans, a leaked letter reveals.

In a message to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, the International Trade Secretary warns that the current proposals put the UK at risk of smuggling and could be open to legal challenge.

Mr Gove last month confirmed a major shift in the UK’s stance on border checks from next year.

New border controls on goods coming into the UK from the EU will not now kick in in January, with ministers claiming that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic means phasing in the measures will be better.

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.

In the letter to her Cabinet colleagues, seen by Business Insider, Ms Truss says: “I am writing to you to set out my key areas of concern on border policy and readiness for the end of the transition period and to seek your assurance that the concerns will be addressed.”

The letter warns that the UK could be left open to legal challenge from the World Trade Organisation by the proposals; says there is an increased risk of smuggling from the European Union if not all UK ports are prepared; and says Northern Irish unionists could be angered by a “high risk” plan to apply EU tariffs by “default to all imports in NI on 1 January 2021”.

The Northern Ireland proposals could, she warns, “call into question NI's place in the UK customs territory” — a key sticking point in the tortured process of a getting a Brexit agreement through Parliament last year.

Ms Truss demands a “clear view of operational plans, timescales and risks going forward“ for her department.

And she warns: "We need to ensure that the UK border is effective and compliant with international rules, maintaining our credibility with trading partners, the WTO and with business."

The letter also appears to confirm that government plans to waive the need for firms to make export declarations in the first phase of the new border proposals have been dropped.

Ms Truss said she was “pleased to hear that following the XO [EU Exit Operations] meeting last Friday, it was decided that the temporary waving of export declarations will not be included in the publication“.

Seizing on the letter, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said: "This email confirms fears that several ministers have been making things up as they go with a lack of awareness of the real world consequences of border policies they've had four years to develop.

“At the general election people were promised an 'oven-ready' deal to be  implemented by the end of this year, not chaos, confusion and a further risk to jobs."

A government representative told Business Insider: "We do not comment on leaks."

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