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The government’s Brexit blueprint should be extended “well beyond” the date it takes effect in October 2019, Michael Gove, the environment secretary, told the House of Commons on Monday.
The home secretary, Sajid Javid, told parliament a “time-limited” customs partnership with the EU, whereby the UK collects customs tariffs on behalf of the bloc on goods entering Britain from the EU, would “slightly overshoot” the customs partnership Britain will negotiate within months.
But Chris Grayling, a transport secretary and chairman of the Brexit committee in the House of Commons, sharply attacked the plans on Wednesday, labelling them “destructive” and “the worst possible thing” for Britain’s trade relationship with the EU.
The UK will not leave the EU next year as proposed under the withdrawal agreement Theresa May agreed with Brussels last year, Mr Grayling said. Brexit would be delayed indefinitely beyond 2019, in what a Tory MP in the House of Commons branded the “break-up bill”.
The situation was made worse by the fact that EU rules already prevented countries from forging comprehensive new free trade agreements — which even the EU would struggle to agree — until after Brexit, Mr Grayling said. That meant it would be even more difficult than it was last year to strike agreements and secure adequate transitional arrangements with other countries.
“Let me be absolutely clear: every day that passes without there being a plan, the government is going to damage not just its relations with our European partners, but it is going to damage our reputation,” Mr Grayling said.
“The government is only going to have an idea of the EU’s next moves in March,” said Peter Lilley, a Brexit champion in the House of Commons, adding that the lack of a strategy should be described as a “default leave option”.
Meanwhile Javid intends to impose on domestic customs bodies powers to collect import tariffs at the ports, instead of accepting EU duties collected on board ships. It is part of a drive to develop non-tariff barriers to trade that have already forced the closure of the British freight agency and suggestions that the pound-denominated fees levied by Heathrow and Gatwick airports could be eased have received rebukes from industry.
A spokesman for Britain’s aviation trade body, the Air Transport Users Council, said the government’s plans risked creating a no-deal exit for Heathrow and Gatwick, “resulting in millions of passengers being forced into the holding pattern of being stranded on hold”, unless a dedicated UK customs service was set up.