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Published: 14:09, 11 February 2020
| Updated: 14:10, 11 February 2020
The government has warned that businesses should prepare to expect delays at the channel ports from next January as a consequence of additional Brexit border checks.
The warning by Michael Gove, the minister expected to lead Brexit negotiations for the UK, has prompted criticism the government is backtracking on a pledge there would be frictionless trade from next year.
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke, downplayed the potential impact of delays, saying: "The government has been clear that this opportunity to grow and prosper inevitably means there will be some changes.
"That's why it's so important to be ready on day one – and with existing customs systems and existing technology, trade can continue to flow freely between the UK and the EU without damaging hold-ups.”
Councils have called on the government to “urgently consult” them on how to handle delays and the impact on the road network.
Cllr Kevin Bentley, chairman of the Local Government Association Brexit Taskforce, said: “As port health authorities some councils are legally responsible for undertaking checks of certain imports, including live animals, as they enter the country.
“The sooner councils receive clarity surrounding how these border controls will apply, the better they will be able to plan for them. In order to support councils carry out a greater number of checks on goods arriving and to prevent disruption at ports, councils will also need additional resources and capacity, particularly environmental health officers and veterinary staff.”
At a conference held by the Cabinet Office, Mr Gove said:“The UK will be outside the single market and outside the customs union, so we will have to be ready for the customs procedures and regulatory checks that will inevitably follow.”
“You have to accept we will need some friction. We will minimise it, but it is an inevitability of our departure.”
Delegates were told the technology for so-called ‘smart’ borders may not be ready until 2025.
Mr Gove highlighted the need for checks on food and goods of animal origin, customs declarations and the need for safety and security certificates.
KCC’s trading standards chiefs warned in 2018 that Brexit could see a huge increase in the number of checks they are forced to make at Kent’s ports.
It said if no alternative trading arrangements were in place by the time the UK left the EU, vehicle checks could rise from just two a month to around two a day - a staggering increase from 24 a year to 730 a year.
Elizabeth de Jong, policy director of The Freight Transport Association (FTA) said: “We are naturally disappointed that the promise of frictionless trade has been replaced with a promise that trade will be as seamless as possible but not until 2025.”
More by this authorPaul Francis