The government has unveiled plans to spend more than £700 million shoring up Britain’s mainland borders after Brexit, with critics branding it another waste of taxpayers’ money.
The funds will go towards building new infrastructure, hiring staff, and developing new technology to improve the flow of people and trade between the UK and the EU after Brexit.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the major investment would ensure traders and the border industry are able to ‘manage the changes and seize the opportunities’ when the transition period ends in December.
The £705 million package includes £235 million for staffing and IT systems, and £470 million for port and inland infrastructure to ensure compliance with new customs procedures and controls.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph reported that the chancellor is poised to introduce tax cuts and an overhaul of planning laws in up to 10 new freeports.
Sunak is said to be planning to open bidding for towns, cities and regions to become freeports – where UK taxes and tariffs will not apply – in his autumn Budget.
On the £700m spend, Michael Gove said: ‘We are taking back control of our borders, and leaving the single market and the customs union at the end of this year bringing both changes and significant opportunities for which we all need to prepare.
‘That is why we are announcing this major package of investment today.
‘With or without further agreement with the EU, this £705 million will ensure that the necessary infrastructure, tech and border personnel are in place so that our traders and the border industry are able to manage the changes and seize the opportunities as we lay the foundations for the world’s most effective and secure border.’
International trade secretary Liz Truss warned senior ministers that current government plans for Northern Ireland’s borer risked advantaging smugglers and could be challenged by the World Trade Organization.
Truss is said to have asked for ‘assurances’ that the UK will deliver full border controls at ports by July next year and that plans are in place from January ‘to mitigate the risk of goods being circumvented from ports implementing full controls’.
‘We need to ensure that the UK border is effective and compliant with international rules, maintaining our credibility with trading partners, the WTO and with business,’ she wrote in a leaked letter to Gove and chancellor Rishi Sunak.
But interim leader of the Lib Dems Ed Davey compared the government to ‘Dad’s Army’ after wasting more of taxpayers’ money.
He said: ‘The Tories’ handling of their own policy of Brexit is fast becoming as shambolic as their handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The sheer incompetence, waste of taxpayers’ money, and continual deception of the public must make this government the worst in living memory.
‘The fact that even government ministers are warning about the disastrous consequences of their own border plans, not only shows how bad things are, but that there never was an ‘oven ready’ Brexit.
‘Ministers full attention should be on containing the spread of the virus and getting our society back to normal, yet they are wasting hundreds of millions on new border infrastructure.
‘Boris Johnson’s shower make Dad’s Army look modern, well-organised and competent.’
The package comes as Number 10 launches a new information drive – valued at £93 million – to prepare businesses for Brexit, which campaigners say has come too late.