The government is expected to abandon its plan to introduce full border checks with the EU from January 1 over fears of the economic impact of coronavirus.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is expected to shortly announce the policy u-turn over border operations for when Brexit fully comes into effect at the end of the transition period.
The UK had committed to introduce import controls on EU goods in the new year, to the support of Brexiteer MPs who believed it gave the UK leverage in talks, but ministers are now expected to adopt a more flexible approach to prevent the departure compounding the chaos from Covid-19.
Instead, a ‘temporary light-touch regime’ is planned at UK ports such as Dover, regardless of whether a deal is done with the EU or not.
A government source said: ‘We recognise the impact that coronavirus has had on UK businesses, and as we take back control of our laws and our borders at the end of this year, we will take a pragmatic and flexible approach to help business adjust to the changes and opportunities of being outside the single market and the customs union.’
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‘We want to help business adjust to the changes and opportunities of being outside the single market and customs union,’ they added.
Naomi Smith, from the pro-EU Best for Britain organisation, said it was a ‘clear admission that the UK isn’t ready to end the transition period at the end of this year.’
‘Coronavirus is a huge challenge for businesses and it’s right that the government is seeking to ease the pressure on them.
‘But so-called ‘light-touch’ customs checks at our end is a half-baked solution. Exporters still face major customs obstacles if they want to sell their products on the continent.
‘Without more being done to reduce operational disruption, businesses that have just about survived the last few months will be suffocated by bureaucracy.’
Layla Moran, Lib Dem MP and leadership candidate, said it ‘shows the government’s Brexit bluster has collided with cold hard reality’.
‘Ministers have failed to recruit enough customs agents, failed to put in place the necessary infrastructure and now their plans are in utter disarray.
‘These proposals would still leave businesses facing reams of paperwork and are in no way a long-term solution. It’s becoming clear the country cannot afford the economic damage and chaos of a no deal Brexit at the end of this year. Time is running out for the government to agree to an extension and put people’s livelihoods first.’
The new details came after the fourth round of negotiations failed to reach a breakthrough last week.
A virtual summit between the prime minister and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen to try to break the deadlock in trade negotiations has been scheduled for Monday.
UK sources said that unless both sides agree to another such meeting before the end of July, it will be the last opportunity to request an extension to the transition period.