EEF said government should concentrate on a more workable solution ©PA Images
EEF said government should concentrate on a more workable solution ©PA Images

Brexit customs proposal ‘wholly unrealistic’

29 May 2018

The government’s proposal to use technology to keep the border with Europe frictionless after Brexit has been called “naive” and “wholly unrealistic” by a manufacturing body.

EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, called on the government to “stop wasting public money and precious time” developing its maximum facilitation plan and instead concentrate on a more workable solution.

Dubbed “max fac”, maximum facilitation is one of several customs relationships being considered by the government. It aims to streamline the customs process, in part by creating a list of trusted traders that can move across the border quickly by using IT systems and licence plate recognition cameras to link customs declarations to vehicle registrations at the border.

However, Stephen Phipson, chief executive EEF, said the majority of businesses crossing the border between US and Canada – where there is already a similar max fac system – still face lengthy customs processes.

“The reality is that most Canadian SME businesses can’t easily access the max fac arrangements,” he said.

“Much of the debate on max fac is misguided. No one doubts the technology exists: it is in place in many locations around the world. The issue is whether it is good enough to provide a frictionless border and can be implemented quickly enough to be ready for December 2020.

“I think that the answer to this is an overwhelming no.”

EEF said Phipson had written to Greg Clark, the business secretary, calling on him to drop the proposal.

A government spokesperson said it was focused on making the UK’s exit from the EU a success and had created a Border Planning Group to mitigate risks while preparing ports.

“Work is ongoing to develop the options we have presented on customs, in order to meet our commitments to ensuring UK-EU trade is as frictionless as possible, avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and enabling us to establish an independent international trade policy,” they said.

Separately the UK food supply chain has called for assurances on trade regulations and the availability of labour after Brexit.

More than 100 organisations in the food sector, including Marks & Spencer, Princes and UKHospitality, have signed a manifesto outlining the industry’s desired outcome for Brexit. These include continued “free and frictionless trade” with the EU and “ongoing access” to permanent and seasonal labour from the continent.

It said: “It is imperative that the EU and UK reach an agreement that maintains continuity in existing trade agreements as far as possible [and] government must secure an agreement that retains the UK’s current status amongst the EU’s existing preferential international trading partners.”

On access to labour, a recurring concern for the food sector, the manifesto said the UK supply chain was already having difficulty recruiting domestic workers and it called for government to ensure short to medium-term access to overseas labour markets.

The manifesto was spearheaded by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and was signed by firms across the food supply chain, including farmers, packers, food services companies and retailers.

It also called on the UK to ensure regulations after Brexit do not diverge from “those of our key trading partners” and that domestic policy benefits farmers and contractors.

Minette Batters, president of the NFU, said the sector was presenting a “united voice” through the manifesto. “A Brexit that fails to champion UK food producers and the businesses that rely on them will be bad for the country’s landscape, the economy and critically our society,” she said.

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