Sunday, July 21, 2019

Brexit news latest: ‘Risk of ports grinding to halt if UK crashes out without deal’

November 9, 2018 by  
Filed under Editorials

With just six months to go before the UK quits the European Union, the Conservative peer urged the Government to give businesses more details about how border controls could be relaxed to avoid gridlock.

A Tory donor, he spoke out as Next issued an 11-page report on its Brexit preparations. The high street retailer warned there was “no certainty” of a trade deal and that if none was agreed, the pound could fall further.

Amid growing fears that the UK could be hurtling towards no deal after Theresa May’s disastrous Salzburg EU summit, Lord Wolfson told the Evening Standard: “To our business the biggest single risk is that the ports stop working and there’s a lot the Government can do to reduce the burden of work at ports.

“Biggest risk”: Next chief Lord Wolfson warned that ports could grind to a halt if Britain crashes out of the EU (PA)

“At the moment, we don’t have a lot of visibility of how the Government might change the procedures in order  to alleviate the way that ports work.” In its no-deal paper Next is proposing that ministers order a series of changes to the border system to keep traffic flowing smoothly through Dover and other ports. They include:

  • Raising import thresholds for goods brought into the UK by small importers so they avoid customs procedures.
  • Self-assessment tax procedures for customs tariffs and duties mirroring other taxes such as VAT. Businesses are trusted to collect £125 billion of VAT through self-assessment, Next added, so it would seem “reasonable” for them to collect £3.5 billion of duty in the same way. The document claims: “This would … do much to alleviate pressure on UK ports.”
  • Extend temporary “trusted trader” status to many more importers through a simplified and less burdensome application and certification process. This would allow certain checks on vehicles, drivers and customs classifications to take place inland or at a later date.
  • Next outlined a series of risks facing its business from a bungled Brexit and ranked queues and delays at UK and EU ports due to increased custom declarations for other companies as “high”.
  • A fall in the value of Sterling leading to a rise in cost of goods from overseas was seen as a “medium” risk, as was increase in tariffs and duty on goods imported into the UK from the EU and other countries.Senior Tory MP Bob Neill said the Next report was a “real wake-up call”.

The Government has published dozens of “technical papers” detailing the possible impacts of no deal and the preparations that can be taken to mitigate against them. But many businesses feel that they are still unclear about what steps they should be taking.

Next emphasised: “We do not expect the Government to publish potential tariff rates at this stage, but it would be very useful if the Government could clarify its intentions in respect of overall tariff rates in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”

The report added: “As long as ports and customs procedures are well prepared for the change, and tariff rates are adjusted to ensure no net increase in duty costs to consumers, we believe we can manage the business to ensure no material cost increases or serious operational impediment.

“We do not believe that the direct risks of a no-deal Brexit pose a material threat to the ongoing operations and profitability of Next’s business here in the UK or to our £190 million turnover business in the EU.”

Before the EU referendum in June 2016, Lord Wolfson intervened in the debate, writing: “Over the next four months, people will debate the economic pros and cons of Brexit. On balance, I think we will be better off out.”

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