Charlie Elphicke is MP for Dover and Deal.
The people of Britain voted in huge numbers to leave the European Union – with the highest poll turnout for decades. In Dover, 62 per cent wanted out. So it’s no surprise that so often people ask me: “Why haven’t we left yet?” And they’re absolutely right. We need to get on with it.
It’s vital that we deliver on the instruction of the British people and take back control of our borders, our laws, our money and our trade policy. There’s no point doing this half-heartedly. We’ll just end up being run by remote control by Brussels bureaucrats.
I have long argued that Brexit preparations – particularly at the border – should be treated as a national priority. The truth is that after the EU referendum we should have started major investment at the border the very next day. Yet it seems too many Government officials just could not bring themselves to accept the Brexit vote. Just this week, Whitehall officials have reportedly been warning Ministers that the so-called “max-fac” customs arrangement would take three years – while the new customs partnership would take five. HMRC officials say they won’t be ready until 2022.
These defeatists who don’t believe in an independent future for our island nation tell us we must keep some form of quasi-EU relationship. This is nonsense. There are many practical steps we should be taking now to solve the Brexit border challenge.
I’ve been making this case every chance I get. And the Government has recently committed some cash. The £260 million allocated to HM Revenue and Customs and £395 million to the Home Office for Brexit preparations is a start – but only that. More is needed, and quickly.
This is the view of industry leaders. When I recently asked freight experts at a Treasury Select Committee hearing if we still had enough time, they said: “You would have to get a hell of a wiggle on.”
So what practical steps can we take? At our ports, it makes sense to use the cameras and video technology we already have, so we can track vehicles through Automatic Number Plate Recognition. This could link up to HMRC’s new Customs Declaration System – which the Government must ensure is ready on time. We should get more firms signed up as trusted traders so trucks can just as easily cross the border without needless delays. Meanwhile, major infrastructure projects like the new Lower Thames Crossing must be taken forward at speed. We also need more lorry parking facilities built along our motorways.
The Government must not underestimate just how vital it is to invest in modern border systems and keep trade flowing. More than 10,000 trucks pass through Dover every day. The port hands up to £122 billion (17 per cent) of the UK’s trade in goods every year. And this is set to grow by 40 per cent over the next 10 years.
So this isn’t speculative spending. This funding was needed anyway. Yet it is more important now than ever. The EU think they have us over a barrel because hardly anything has been done to date. So whatever happens, we need get on with it.