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No Deal: UK Border Delays

Volume 648: debated on Thursday 25 October 2018

1. What assessment he has made of the potential for UK border delays in the event that no deal is agreed for when the UK leaves the EU. (907258)

6. What assessment he has made of the potential for UK border delays in the event that no deal is agreed for when the UK leaves the EU. (907264)

7. What assessment he has made of the potential for UK border delays in the event that no deal is agreed for when the UK leaves the EU. (907265)

The Government have published 106 technical notices addressing the no-deal scenario. We are striving for a good deal with our European Union partners, but we will be ready for all outcomes from the negotiations.

Recent National Audit Office estimates state that if customs declarations are required for trading between the UK and the EU, the total number of declarations could increase by about 360%, from 55 million currently on non-EU trade to 225 million. What estimate has the Minister made of the additional staff that will be required and, not least, the likely tailbacks that could ensue at UK ports?

There certainly is a risk of no deal, especially if the EU engages in a deliberately intransigent approach. The hon. Gentleman asks about staff. We are recruiting 300 extra staff, with a further 600 planned. We have given a range of advice through our 106 technical notices, half of which gave advice on customs procedures for businesses. There have been 300,000 letters sent to current customs users and 145,000 letters to VAT-registered businesses.

The Health Secretary told pharmaceutical companies to stockpile six weeks’ worth of medicines in case of a no-deal Brexit because of potential delays at the border. Will the Brexit Secretary confirm whether he envisages circumstances where companies could be asked to stockpile for longer than six weeks?

The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue, not least because Government and the pharmaceutical industry already liaise on stockpiling for far longer periods in other circumstances, including in relation to vaccines. We will keep it under review, but this is something the industry is used to doing and we are used to co-operating with it.

In September, the Borders Delivery Group reported that 11 of the 12 major projects to replace or change key IT systems were at risk of not being delivered on time or in a workable condition. Many of my constituents who work at the port of Felixstowe are at their wits’ end about how this is going to work. Can the Secretary of State tell us what is going to be done with those IT systems?

We had an extended Cabinet session last month. We looked at a whole range of action points right across the piece, including some of the IT issues to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We want to make sure we are in the best position to manage, avoid or mitigate any risk in a no-deal scenario, but of course we are striving for the best deal with our European partners.

A very significant number of automotive parts enter the UK and the European Union from third countries for just-in-time delivery. It seems to work, doesn’t it?

My right hon. Friend will know that that is one of the reasons the White Paper proposals deal with the kind of customs arrangements and co-operation with our EU partners which will not just prevent friction at the border, but, particularly in relation to just-in-time manufacturers, provide them with the frictionless trade they need.

Can we be absolutely sure that, should this House reject a deal brought back by the Government, we will still leave the European Union on 29 March, and that those who vote against that deal will be responsible for no deal?

My right hon. Friend raises, responsibly and assiduously, the stark reality of those who would seek to wreck the deal, as the Labour party leadership has suggested, come what may. Every hon. Member of this House will have a choice to make between the good deal we are confident we will bring back and the alternatives.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the event of no deal the UK Government will not create a hard border on the island of Ireland? And if we do not do it, who does he think will?

My hon. Friend is attempting to draw me down an avenue of inquiry I will not be pursuing. What I will say is that we have made it clear that under no circumstances will we see or erect a hard border in relation to Northern Ireland.

This week the NAO warned that not a single one of the Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ preparations for a no-deal Brexit was in anything other than a red-amber state of lack of preparedness. That is on top of the 80,000 lost Scottish jobs, £2,300 out of the pockets of every Scottish household and a 9% hit to our economy that a no-deal Brexit is likely to bring. Is the Secretary of State seriously telling us that it is possible for him and the Prime Minister to bring back a bad deal that is worse than that?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the risks of no deal, but the point is to have the planning and preparations in place to ensure we can avoid or mitigate those risks. In addition to the remarks I made earlier, £8 million of funding for customs intermediaries has been announced. We also need to prepare for the worst-case scenario, whereby the authorities at Calais are deliberately directing a go-slow approach, by supporting a diversion of the flow to more amenable ports in other countries.

HMRC will not have the capacity to cope and the Border Force will not have the capacity to cope, but at least we know that the Government’s capacity for incompetence is utterly unbounded. The Secretary of State is criticising others for so-called intransigence. Is it not time for the Government to drop their own intransigent stance, go right back to the beginning, rub out the three stupid red lines and start again?

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that at this late stage of negotiations, we can go back to the beginning, I am afraid his approach is rather delusional. We have made good progress and we are close to agreeing a deal. The responsible thing for Members from all parts of the House to do, regardless of their views on Brexit, is to get behind the Government so we can clinch that good deal for all quarters and all parts of the UK.

Has the Secretary of State made the Republic of Ireland aware that if the French start mucking about with Calais and a go-slow in the event of no deal, the biggest impact will be not on UK trade but on trade with the Republic of Ireland that passes through this country?

I am confident that the authorities in Dublin are well aware of the implications of no deal. All of us, on all sides—not just in this House but in the EU—want to lock horns, close the outstanding issues and seal the good deal that will serve everyone’s interests.

As you will know, Mr Speaker, Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto was rightly hailed as a transformative blueprint for a Britain that works for the many, not the few, but even we did not go so far as to propose the nationalisation of roll-off, roll-on lorry ferries. In addition to contingency plans for Government-owned or operated logistics, can the Secretary of State tell us which other industries the Government are considering taking into public ownership under a no-deal scenario?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to look at all possible contingencies to ensure that in a no-deal scenario British businesses and livelihoods are safeguarded. I think it was rather unfortunate of him to refer to the Labour manifesto, because with the Labour party’s current commitment to rejecting any deal that the Government bring back opening the door to a second referendum, the Labour leadership have driven a coach and horses straight through the promises that they made to every Labour voter at the last election.