UK repeats ‘no extension’ mantra but backtracks on import controls

File photo. Lorries arrive in Dover port in Dover, Britain, 31 July 2018. Reports state Dover, but also Calais in France may face serious economic problems due to Brexit. [Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA/EFE]

The UK government said on Friday (12 June) that it had given the EU formal notice it would not agree to an extension on the post-Brexit trade talks, while at the same time taking a step back on its position for import controls.

Speaking on Friday following the second joint committee agreed under the Withdrawal Agreement with European Commission Vice President Maros Šefčovič, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said he had “formally confirmed” to the EU the UK will not extend the transition period. “The moment for extension has now passed,” Gove said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen by videoconference on Monday (15 June) following three weeks of talks by video-link which have made little progress, particularly on fisheries, governance and regulation.

The meeting is likely to result in both sides agreeing to intensify talks between the EU’s Michel Barnier and UK chief negotiator David Frost, in a bid to quickly reach a ‘negotiating tunnel’ with a view to brokering a compromise in the autumn.

Despite the lack of progress so far, London insists that a new EU-UK trade deal must be finalised before the end of 2020 and UK officials were keen to earmark the meeting as the point at which London “formally notifies the EU that it will neither accept nor seek any extension to the Transition Period.”

For his part, Šefčovič also expressed concerns about the UK’s plans to implement the Northern Ireland protocol, the part of the Withdrawal Agreement which commits the UK to avoid the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“We need to move from aspiration to operation and fast,” he said, adding that “with some six months to go before the end of the transition period we still have lots of work to do.”

However, the Johnson government has backtracked on its plans to control imports after it leaves the EU Single Market on 31 December.

In February, Gove said import controls were “necessary” to keep UK borders “safe and secure” and to collect the appropriate taxes.

On Friday, the UK revealed that the new regime will require traders importing standard goods, covering everything from clothes to electronics, to complete basic customs requirements, keep records of imported goods, and to complete customs declarations.  There will still be checks on controlled goods like alcohol and tobacco.

However, while tariffs will need to be paid on all imports, payments can be deferred for six months until the customs declaration has been made.

The government also announced a £50 million support package for customs brokers, freight forwarders and express parcel operators to help them adapt to the new regime.

Edited by Samuel Stolton

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