LONDON (AFP) - Britain will apply “light-touch” border checks on goods from the European Union when the Brexit transition period ends this year so as to help firms hit by the coronavirus crisis, reports said yesterday.
Ministers have ditched plans to introduce a more rigorous regime following pressure from businesses struggling with the fallout from the pandemic, according to the Financial Times and the BBC.
Britain’s economy shrank by more than a fifth in April from March - a record as the first full month of its virus lockdown ravaged activity.
The country formally left the EU on January 31 after 47 years of membership but remains in a transition period until December 31, keeping it inside the bloc’s single market and customs union.
With talks on a new trade agreement deadlocked, Britain has nonetheless rejected EU offers to extend the standstill arrangements, a step which would need to be agreed by July.
“I formally confirmed the UK will not extend the transition period (and) the moment for extension has now passed,” senior minister Michael Gove said Friday after chairing a virtual meeting with counterparts in Brussels.
“On 1 January 2021 we will take back control and regain our political (and) economic independence,” Gove, a leading Brexit proponent who is spearheading preparations, added on Twitter.
However, the leaders of devolved governments in Scotland and Wales penned a joint letter yesterday to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to request an extension to support businesses through the pandemic recovery.
“We believe that exiting the transition period at the end of the year would be extraordinarily reckless,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh leader Mark Drakeford wrote.
A British government source confirmed on Friday it would now adopt a “pragmatic and flexible approach” to post-Brexit goods checks.
“We recognise the impact that coronavirus has had on UK businesses,” the source said.
“As we take back control of our laws and our borders at the end of this year, we will take a pragmatic and flexible approach to help business adjust to the changes and opportunities of being outside the single market and the customs union.”
A spokesman for the Cabinet Office, which is coordinating Brexit preparations, noted the government said earlier this week it will provide an update on its plans “soon”.
Gove unveiled proposals in February to treat all British exports and imports equally after Brexit.
That would have required traders in Britain and the EU to submit customs declarations and face checks on goods, which he said at the time were “necessary” to secure the country’s borders and collect taxes.
But the FT said Gove has backtracked and has now accepted that a “temporary light-touch regime” at ports such as Dover would be needed.
Prime Minister Johnson is set to talk to the heads of the three main EU institutions -the commission, parliament and council to take stock of the negotiations on Monday, directly joining the talks for the first time.
Meanwhile Brussels yesterday confirmed that the talks will continue through the summer, with negotiating rounds now set for July, August and September.