Charlie Elphicke is MP for Dover and Deal.
Brexit is a huge opportunity for Britain. An opportunity to look outwards to a globalised world. This matters because 90 per cent of future world economic growth will come from outside the EU. Moreover, in the last 40 years the EU’s share of the global economy has halved from around 30 per cent to some 15 per cent today. So we need to trade with Europe but also to look beyond.
To fully grasp the opportunity, it’s important we are ready on day one for Brexit, prepared for every eventuality – as I have previously written on this site. Clearly we all hope for a deal, yet we must be fully prepared. Uncertainty is our enemy – but resilience is our friend. As the Prime Minister rightly said this week, the Government is committed to spending what is needed to make sure we are ready.
Rightly so. There is no reason the uncertainty should hold us back from making “no regrets” investment decisions that are in the national interest. Investment that will make us stronger in forging ahead on day two, deal or no deal and whatever the eventual shape of any deal that may be done happens to be. For why wouldn’t we want to have world class customs systems, cutting edge digital border controls and resilient road infrastructure? It wouldn’t just mean we are in a great position, deal or no deal – it would also mean faster, more efficient borders to help boost the economy.
What chances a deal? There are less than 18 months to go before we leave the EU – yet discussions on trade have yet to begin.
Everyone knows that leaving the EU is the biggest challenge our nation has faced since the Second World War. This is why I got hauliers, ports and transport experts together to set out a blueprint for the way forward. This made the case to plan for efficient ports, infrastructure for customs checks, and technological improvements. Not least in making sure HMRC successfully delivers its new computer system on time. We need a trusted trader system and close working will be required from partner ports like Calais, Dunkirk and Zeebrugge as well as investment in the infrastructure needed to be fully ready.
And the Government has increasingly been setting out positive plans. HMRC has started to make progress leading a cross-departmental borders planning group with the Home Office. The Department for Exiting the European Union has set out a “technology-based solution” for ports like Dover. The pre-arrival notification of consignments would be made on a port IT system. This system would be linked to customs declarations and vehicle registration numbers, so cars and lorries would not need to stop at the border. Hauliers would be part of a boosted “trusted trader” scheme to keep traffic flowing freely.
The Customs Bill White Paper, published by the Treasury on Monday, sets out measures for consignments to be “pre-notified” to customs and for customs self-assessment. It also suggests goods could be presented to customs inland – away from ports where this would cause delays. This yet again underlines the need for vital lorry parking infrastructure along the M20 to be built swiftly.
There has been much focus on trade. Yet as well as preparing for post-Brexit customs, it’s important we are ready for the end of uncontrolled EU immigration. That means we need to be able extend our full border control systems from the current 12.5 million to a further 25.5 million visitors to the United Kingdom.
Investment in tried and tested modern digital border systems would enable much faster checks to be made and allow most of the processing to be automated. Using systems to make all necessary checks long before people arrive at ports or airports would help minimise travel delays for legitimate travellers.
We must be ambitious. With customs, the gold standard is the ten seconds it takes for processing in Singapore. With immigration, we should look at Australia, which is aiming to have the first entirely automatic biometric processing system in the world – removing the need for passport checks. We could raise revenue to pay for upgrading our border systems by adopting a visa waiver system like they do in the US. If we are ambitious we can be a world leader in terms of border technology and security.
Some would say we should wait for the EU to get its act together. Yet it’s increasingly clear our Conservative Government is getting its act together with positive proposals of what our post-Brexit future will look like. This is why it’s right to take action now. For if we are ready on day one, we can forge ahead on day two.