The government will take a “flexible” approach to post-Brexit border checks on goods imported from the EU next year in order to assist businesses already struggling with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Later today the UK government will formally rule out any extension of the Brexit transition period beyond 31 December, despite trade talks with the EU remaining stalled.
In February cabinet minister Michael Gove said imports from the EU would be subject to the same customs and regulatory checks as those coming from the rest of the world, but according to the Financial Times the government intends to introduce “a temporary light-touch regime at UK ports such as Dover for incoming EU goods” whether or not a trade deal is agreed.
Confirming the report in the Financial Times, a government source said: “We recognise the impact that coronavirus has had on UK businesses, and 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.”
But trade experts have warned such a move would have ramifications beyond EU imports.
David Henig, UK director of European Centre For International Political Economy, said any decision to relax border controls on EU goods would also need to apply to goods from the rest of the world.
“If there’s no deal with the EU we have to treat imports from them equally to those from other WTO members,” Mr Henig wrote in a social media post.
Ministers have long insisted they would refuse any extension of the Brexit transition period beyond 31 December 2020, but later today Mr Gove will make that position official as he meets EU counterparts.
Mr Gove will co-chair a meeting of the UK-EU joint committee, which oversees the application of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, alongside European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic.
Although the deadline for seeking an extension is not until the end of June, any extension request needs to be first agreed at a meeting of the UK-EU joint committee. The group will not meet again before the end of the month.
It comes ahead of “high-level” talks between Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, EU Council President Charles Michel and European Parliament President David Sassoli, scheduled to take place via video conference next Monday.
Downing Street said the UK and EU had also agreed an “intensified timetable” for negotiations.
“This new process will involve a mix of formal negotiating rounds and smaller group meetings, both in London and Brussels assuming public health guidelines enable this,” Number 10 added.
Negotiations will be held in each of the five weeks between the week beginning 29 June and week beginning 27 July.
Last week Mr Johnson’s chief negotiator, David Frost, acknowledged the two sides had come “close to reaching the limits of what we can achieve” through formal remote negotiations between officials.