Firms slam tech-based plan for border checks after Brexit

Alistair Smout

British manufacturers have turned up the pressure on the government to abandon one of its post-Brexit customs proposals, slamming the idea of a technology-based plan for border checks as naive and a waste of money.

UK prime minister Theresa May has ruled out Britain staying in a customs union with the EU to the dismay of many employers groups and says her government is working on two possible solutions to minimise delays at the UK’s ports and airports.

However, the EEF manufacturers’ body said it was unrealistic and naive to think a technological border solution, known as ‘max fac’, or maximum facilitation, could be implemented by the time a planned Brexit transition period ends in December 2020.

“It may have some long-term benefits, but suggesting max fac is a solution to our immediate problems is a non-starter,” said EEF chief executive Stephen Phipson.

Phipson said a max fac-style arrangement at the US-Canada border had not eliminated the need for checks on most goods.

The customs conundrum — which will define commerce between the UK and its biggest trading partner for decades — is a test of May’s leadership as she tries to pacify rival factions in her Conservative Party and her cabinet. She also needs to win agreement from Brussels where officials have dismissed both the options being considered.

The max fac option is favoured by eurosceptics in May’s party who want looser ties with the EU after the UK leaves the EU. However, last week the UK’s most senior tax official said such a customs arrangement could cost businesses up to £20bn (€22.8bn) a year.

Under the other option, the UK would collect tariffs on imports from outside the bloc on the EU’s behalf.

A senior EU official last week dismissed as “fantasy” some of the UK’s main demands for Brexit, including on the border. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier urged the UK to stop playing “hide and seek”.

May’s spokesman yesterday criticised what he called “sound bites and negative anonymous briefings” and called for a more constructive tone to the negotiations.

Last week, the Confederation of British Industry said remaining in a customs union was currently the only workable option for the UK.


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