The European Union will introduce full border checks with the UK on January 1, despite Britain introducing customs controls on EU goods more slowly and whether or not the two sides agree a trade deal.
Michel Barnier warned a House of Lords Committee that Brussels “will not delay things”, despite a Government U-Turn, which meant full controls on imports to the UK not being imposed for another six months after the EU.
The UK announced a gradual three phased implementation of border checks in June after previously insisting that checks would be inevitable. Full border checks will now only apply on EU goods entering the UK from July 2021.
The EU’s chief negotiator told peers that the EU was, in contrast to the UK, ready for Britain to leave the Customs Union and Single Market at the end of the transition period on January 1.
The European Commission official said that every UK product imported into the EU would face checks once the Brexit transition period finished at the end of the year, whether there was a trade deal or not.
“All products coming into the Single Market through the borders in Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France or elsewhere will have to be checked, which of course is not the case today,” Mr Barnier said, according to a transcript of the June 23 meeting, which was published on Monday.
“We have recruited customs officers, 750 in the Netherlands, 700 in France, close to 400 in Belgium and many in Ireland as well, because we will have to carry out checks on products coming into the European Union,” Mr Barnier said.
“We are ready,” Mr Barnier said, “everyone has to accept their responsibilities. We have accepted ours.”
Customs and haulage industry leaders warned in May that the UK was falling “many thousands” short of its target to train an estimated 50,000 new customs agents that would be needed after Brexit.
British businesses fear that the UK government's planned entirely new IT system to check goods heading to the European Union won't be ready in time, it was reported last week.
Mr Barnier said, “As of 1 January, all products coming in to the Single Market—coming from any third [non-EU- country anywhere in the world, including yours, because you are a third country—will be checked.”
“If there is no deal, there would be tariffs and quotas on top of that, which would be very cumbersome and very complicated but we would have to do that.”
Failure to strike a trade deal by the end of the transition period will mean the UK and EU trading on less lucrative WTO terms with tariffs and quotas. Intensified negotiations continue this week in London and next in Brussels.
Mr Barnier revealed that the EU had offered the UK a “precautionary” extension to the transition period but the UK had rejected it.
The offer, similar to the “flextension” the EU granted the UK to the Article 50 process in March 2019, would have been triggered if talks were not finalised by the end of the year. The extension would end when the free trade deal was agreed.
UK sources confirmed that the British government had always been clear it would never extend the transition period. The deadline for any extension request was June 30 and has now passed.
Mr Barnier said, “We were open to an extension, even a precautionary extension, in case of need, making allowance for one before 30 June, even if in practice we did not need to use it, or all of it.
“But the UK refused to do that, so that means that time is of the essence for the negotiations.”
“We recognise the impact that coronavirus has had on UK businesses," a government source said after the June U-Turn on border checks.
"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."
Mr Barnier will have a private fish dinner of halibut in Downing Street with his UK counterpart David Frost on Tuesday evening.
Number 10 said the pair, who have struggled to bridge deep divides between the deadlocked sides will meet for “informal talks” with their teams on Wednesday.
No ministers will be present at the dinner but “one or two” officials from each side could attend and Downing Street said social distancing rules will be obeyed.