Background Briefing – ‘Throwing Open Our Borders’

Sky News has today revealed that the Government's secret plan for avoiding friction at UK borders is to unilaterally decide not to enforce customs checks, and other border checks, and presume that a reciprocal approach will be taken by the European Union. Read article here.

  • Transport Secretary Chris Grayling confirmed this position last night on Questions Time: "We will maintain a free-flowing border at Dover, we will not impose checks at the port, it is utterly unrealistic to do so ... We don't check lorries now, we're not going to be checking lorries in the future." Watch clip here.
  • Sky News have also reported that the Government have used gagging orders on companies to keep these plans secret up to now.

Briefing

Top lines

  • This reckless proposal will be unacceptable to the EU, who would have to enforce their own border controls.
  • It would be a clear breach of WTO rules to not apply tariffs on EU goods in the event of no deal, while continuing to apply tariffs to goods from non-EU countries.
  • It would make it impossible to enforce our trading arrangements with the rest of the world.
  • It would open the UK up to smuggling.
  • It would mean the Government has broken its word to ensure it finds a proper solution.
  • It is further evidence of just how unprepared the Government is, and how reckless its decision to leave the Single Market and Customs Union really is.

 

Detail

This reckless proposal will be unacceptable to the EU, who would have to enforce their own border controls

  • The Government’s new position of throwing open our borders and turning a blind eye to everything coming into the UK will deeply undermine trust with the EU and shows what a mess the Government’s approach to Brexit is.
  • This proposal that both the UK and the EU leave their borders open will be completely unacceptable to the EU, as this would threaten the integrity of the Single Market.
  • Regardless of what the UK does, the EU will have to apply customs checks in order to prevent substandard goods entering its internal market, particularly if the UK has an independent trade policy.
  • If in the event of ‘no deal’ the Republic of Ireland didn't apply checks to protect the rules of the Single Market it would be liable at the European Court of Justice.

 

It would be a clear breach of WTO rules to not apply tariffs on EU goods in the event of no deal, while continuing to apply tariffs to goods from non-EU countries.

  • For a post-Brexit UK to charge no tariffs on imports from the EU would be a massive breach the World Trade Organization’s “most-favoured nation” (MFN) principle of equal treatment.
  • If the UK discriminates in this way, it will face widespread litigation at the WTO.
  • And what signal does it send to anyone considering a trade deal with the UK? Who will be willing to make a deal with a country that says it is its policy not to enforce the rules of the international trading system?

 

It would make it impossible to enforce our trading arrangements with the rest of the world

  • By leaving our borders open we could not properly police our levies on goods arriving from third countries via the EU.
  • For example, if we have tariffs on Chinese goods arriving into the UK from Germany, how could we apply those tariffs if there are no checks?

 

It would open the UK up to smuggling

  • It would also mean turning a blind eye to smuggling and restricting counterfeits. Some of these are obligations directly on the UK as a signatory to United Nations charters.

 

It would mean the Government has broken its word to ensure it finds a proper solution

  • Just two weeks ago in her Mansion House speech the Prime Minister said this unilateral open borders idea “is not good enough” and that “we have a responsibility to help find a solution”.
  • She said: “But it is not good enough to say, ‘We won’t introduce a hard border; if the EU forces Ireland to do it, that’s down to them’. We chose to leave; we have a responsibility to help find a solution.”
  • Even worse, the Government has not been straight with Parliament or the public – instead they have been telling companies and then making them sign non-disclosure agreements.

 

It is further evidence of just how unprepared the Government is, and how reckless its decision to leave the Single Market and Customs Union really is.

  • The Government clearly isn’t able to deliver the infrastructure that would be necessary to enforce checks.
  • As reported today by Sky News, the money is not being spent, the planning permissions are not being sought and the customs officers are not being trained.