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Electronic customs plans are fantasy, says Labour Transport chief – updated

[ February 26, 2018   //   ]

Suggestions by the government that an electronic system can somehow solve all the problems of getting trucks in and out of the country are “fantasy”, said Shadow Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald. In answer to a question at the All-Party Parliamentary Maritime and Ports Group on 26 February about whether any progress had been made with numberplate-reading systems, as mooted in Government white papers on the post-Brexit customs regime, he said: that while ports such as Dover had been involved in discussions about  many possible types of software, he had concluded: “We are in fantasy land.”

Moreover, with barely a year to go until Brexit: “No work has been done to put any infrastructure in place,” he warned.

The following day (27 February) foreign Secretary Boris Johnson compared operation of the post-Brexit border between Northern and Southern Ireland to the London congestion charge, which is collected electronically through numberplate cameras.

A Labour spokesman described his comments as tactless, in view of the many difficulties they foresaw for the inhabitants of Ireland after Brexit.

At the 26 February meeting, McDonald told the Ports Group: “The uncertainty we face over customs is of huge concern” and the country faced “doing untold self-inflicted damage to our own economy”.

He also commended his leader Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on the same day which said that any future Labour Government would maintain a customs union with the EU.

Presenting his party’s priorities for the maritime and ports sector, he said a future Labour government would build vital road and rail infrastructure such as an upgrade A2 to Dover or an improved Felixstowe-Nuneaton rail link.

However, in answer to a question from UK Major Ports Group chief executive, Tim Morris, he poured cold water on the idea of the UK developing freeports and free trade zones after Brexit. McDonald said: “I have concerns about freeports, in which current regulations might not apply and which would have a different tax regime.” However, he said he would not reject the idea out of hand and was aware of the recent papers and arguments in their favour.

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