UK to abandon plan for full border checks in January

UK and EU will step up pace of Brexit talks next month; Leaders to hold call on Monday

The British government is to abandon its plan to introduce full border checks with the EU on January 1st as ministers come under mounting pressure from business not to compound the chaos caused by coronavirus.

In a significant policy U-turn, Michael Gove, the UK cabinet office minister, has accepted that businesses cannot be expected to cope with Covid-19 and simultaneously face the prospect of disruption at the border at the end of the post-Brexit transition period.

Instead of full checks, the British government will now introduce a temporary light-touch regime at UK ports such as Dover for incoming EU goods, even in a “no-deal” scenario.

However, British officials concede that goods flowing to the EU from the UK are likely to face full checks as they enter France.


The move, which is expected to be announced ahead of a drive to ramp up no-deal preparations this July, represents a shift from February when Mr Gove announced that goods coming from the EU would face the full range of checks. It will ease some Irish fears about delays in goods coming from continental markets through the UK to the Republic in the event of no trade deal being agreed between the EU and UK.

The shift comes after the pharmaceutical industry warned the British government that the Covid-19 pandemic would prevent them from rebuilding the six-week medicine stockpile of 2019, raising fears in Whitehall of medicine shortages in the event of no-deal.

Under the expected plans, agricultural goods will not be required to enter Border Inspection Posts in or near UK ports – as they do in Europe – and animal products may not immediately require health certificates. Only controlled goods will face immediate checks.

The UK in turn hopes that the EU side will reciprocate by reintroducing the no-deal measures the European Commission had previously tabled on areas from aviation to trucking permits, but which have since lapsed.

The change of tack will be welcomed by logistics and trade groups that have complained vociferously in recent months about the lack of information to enable them to prepare for new border controls.

Trade negotiations

The UK and the European Union will step up the pace of their trade negotiations following talks between British prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen aimed at breaking the deadlock over their future relationship.

Mr Johnson will hold a call with Ms von der Leyen, European Council president Charles Michel and European Parliament president David Sassoli next Monday, according to a tweet from Mr Michel's spokesman on Thursday. Five rounds of weekly trade negotiations will begin at the end of June.

“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,” a British government spokesman said on Thursday. The talks are a sign political leaders are preparing to inject momentum into the process after a fourth round of negotiations ended in stalemate last week.

Mr Johnson had previously threatened to walk away from the talks in June if it was not clear that he was going to get an acceptable deal. The UK has repeatedly refused to extend the talks beyond the year-end, raising the risk of a chaotic parting with the bloc.

The UK is resisting the EU's demands over fishing and rules designed at ensuring a level competitive playing field between the two sides – two preconditions Brussels has put on any deal. But after last week's round of talks, Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, hinted that a compromise may be possible.– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020/Bloomberg