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'The UK’s new start': £705m to be spent on British-EU borders - Northern Ireland plans yet to be published

£235 million will be spent on staffing and IT systems, while £470 million will be spent on port and inland infrastructure.

Image: PA Images

Updated Jul 12th 2020, 1:54 PM

MORE THAN £700 million is to be spent on building new infrastructure, hiring staff and developing technology to ensure Britain’s border systems are fully operational when the UK leaves the EU at the end of the year.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the major investment would ensure traders and the border industry are able to “manage the changes and seize the opportunities” when the transition period ends in December.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, Gove avoided answering whether UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was wrong to say there would be no checks on goods going to or from Northern Ireland, Gove didn’t give a yes-or-no response.

He said that was unfettered access on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, but said there would be some checks on goods travelling in the opposite direction.

It’s certainly not going to be the case where you will have customs officer saying ‘halt’, what you will have are vets who are suitably equipped in order to carry out surveillance and I say as in most cases we will have the same standards on both sides of the Irish Sea, there won’t be any impediment to trade.

The £705 million package includes £235 million for staffing and IT systems, and £470 million for port and inland infrastructure to ensure compliance with new customs procedures and controls.

New border infrastructure will be built inland where there is no space at ports, while ports will get one-off financial support to ensure the right infrastructure is in place.

Of the £235 million for staffing and IT systems:

  • £100 million will be used to develop HMRC systems to reduce the burden on traders.
  • £20 million will be spent on new equipment to keep the country safe.
  • £15 million will go towards building new data infrastructure to enhance border flow and management.
  • £10 million will be used to recruit around 500 more Border Force personnel.

The funding relates only to the implementation of the GB-EU border; the UK government is expected to publish specific guidance and measures for Northern Ireland in the coming weeks.

Gove said: “We are taking back control of our borders, and leaving the single market and the customs union at the end of this year bringing both changes and significant opportunities for which we all need to prepare.

“That is why we are announcing this major package of investment today.

With or without further agreement with the EU, this £705 million will ensure that the necessary infrastructure, tech and border personnel are in place so that our traders and the border industry are able to manage the changes and seize the opportunities as we lay the foundations for the world’s most effective and secure border.

Liz Truss’ letter

In a letter to her cabinet colleague Michael Gove, leaked to the media this week, international trade minister Liz Truss expressed concern that border infrastructure would not be ready by July 2021.

(The UK has said it will not immediately introduce checks on EU imports, but will instead introduce them on a phased basis over the first half of next year, due to the coronavirus.)

She warned the delay in imposing checks could spark a legal challenge at the World Trade Organization, adding: “I would like assurances that we are able to deliver full controls at these ports by July 2021.”

Gove, the minister in charge of preparing for Brexit, said the government had been consulting on the issue for months and insisted the borders would be ready.

“That’s the basis of the announcement today – more than £700 million in order to provide infrastructure at ports, to invest in technology and also to make sure we have the personnel to keep ourselves safe,” he told the BBC.

The main opposition Labour party said Truss’ letter showed a “growing sense of chaos and confusion” within the cabinet about Brexit preparations.

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The government is also planning a new public information campaign to prepare businesses and individuals for the end of the transition, dubbed “The UK’s new start: let’s get going”.

It will include detailed guidance for everyone from traders to holidaymakers on what might change, Gove said.

Background

The transition period is set to end at the end of December 2020, when the UK will leave the single market and customs union.

The funding package comes ahead of a public information campaign in which guidance will be given to traders and hauliers explaining what they may need to do to prepare for the end of the transition period.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph reported that Chancellor Rishi Sunak is poised to introduce tax cuts and an overhaul of planning laws in up to 10 new freeports.

Sunak is said to be planning to open bidding for towns, cities and regions to become freeports – where UK taxes and tariffs will not apply – in his autumn Budget.

The paper said the ports will be “fully operational” within 18 months of the UK leaving the customs union and single market at the end of this year.

- with reporting from AFP

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