BPA says proposed arrangements from UK government ‘will give ports and freight operators a measure of short-term certainty’
HE British Ports Association has welcomed the publication of the British government’s temporary customs arrangement, the so-called “customs backstop”, which guarantees borderless customs on the island of Ireland after the UK leaves the European Union.
“This arrangement will give ports and freight operators a measure of short-term certainty,” said BPA chief executive Richard Ballantyne.
The document Technical Note on Temporary Customs Arrangement sets out the UK’s proposal for a “backstop” customs arrangement between the UK and EU and is seen by many as in effect guaranteeing a soft exit from the EU by the UK.
The UK government said it believed that the Joint Report commitments, agreed earlier this year between the UK and the EU with respect to Northern Ireland, “can be fulfilled through the overall UK-EU partnership”.
It said it was necessary to ensure that there was “an appropriate backstop solution” for the Northern Ireland land border that would come into force only in limited circumstances.
“The UK is putting forward a proposal for the customs element of the backstop that would apply to customs arrangements between the UK and EU and avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland,” it said. “The UK’s proposal is that in the circumstances in which the backstop is agreed to apply, a temporary customs arrangement should exist between the UK and the EU.”
This arrangement would see the elimination of tariffs, quotas, rules of origin and customs processes including declarations on all UK-EU trade; the UK being outside the scope of the Common Commercial Policy, except where it is required to enable the temporary customs arrangement to function.; and the UK being able to negotiate, sign and ratify free trade agreements with rest of world partners.
There remains some debate over whether the customs backstop would have a specific end date, and whether a specific end date would be acceptable to the EU.
Nevertheless, the document was welcomed by UK ports representatives.
“It is now essential that government makes progress on our long-term customs and other border arrangements,” said Mr Ballantyne. “There is still an urgent need for clarity on non-customs checks, which account for three quarters of border stoppages. These have the potential to cause huge disruption.”
The BPA urged the UK government to speed up progress with the planned customs White Paper to clarify the future relationship with the EU.
“Ports need to know sooner rather than later what this relationship will look like and we will continue to work with government, behind the scenes, on ensuring that the transition is as smooth as possible.”
The UK shipping industry has this week exerted pressure on the UK government, with the Chamber of Shipping criticising a lack of vision and an “absence of political leadership” over Brexit arrangements.
“The shipping industry will do all it can to keep trade moving,” Chamber chief executive Guy Platten said. “But we cannot begin planning for a transition until we know what we are transitioning towards — and we are running out of time.”
Maritime UK, which represents nearly 1m jobs in the UK, has accused the Department for International Trade of “seriously failing to acknowledge the gravity of the post-Brexit challenge” to the maritime industry.