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Call for ‘pragmatism’ to minimise disruption in case ‘no-deal’ Brexit | Politics News



The president of the northeastern region of France has told Sky News that his government must be pragmatic and flexible in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit.

Xavier Bertrand leads the regional council of Hauts-de-France and his jurisdiction includes the ports of Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne, which would be hit hard in the event of no-deal disruption.

Using strong language that risks undermining the EU’s core principle of maintaining its own integrity, he said: “It’s a test of pragmatism. We need to maintain fluidity and jobs and we can write a new chapter in the relationship.

“So there is a time for politics and then you have to talk about the legal things and we mustn’t let the legal aspect become the enemy of the economics.”

Xavier Bertrand has said ports like Calais will ready for whatever happens at the end of March
Xavier Bertrand has said ports like Calais will ready for whatever happens at the end of March

Mr Bertrand conceded that new checks would have to take place at the ports if no Brexit divorce deal can be reached between the UK and the EU, but he called on the central governments of both the UK and France to use common sense in order to minimise disruption.

“This is a test of pragmatism balanced against the law,” he said.

“We can’t simply wipe out 50 years of relations between the EU and the UK.”

He added that EU law should be flexible and the only compulsory checks that need take place are barcode scans.

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As the president of a region with three ports and multiple trade links to the UK, Mr Bertrand is unquestionably worried about the economic impact that disruption would cause.

However, his call for pragmatism, while understandable and logical from his perspective, strikes at the heart of a central Brexit dilemma for the EU side in the negotiation.

If there is no Brexit deal, the UK would fall out of the EU overnight on 29 March.

Under EU law, this would require the bloc to apply customs checks on all trade coming from the UK.

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Applying these checks would be vital if the EU is to maintain the integrity of its single market, which guarantees the free movement of goods, capital, services and labour, and customs union, which allows goods to pass between EU states without checks or duties but with a common tariff for non-EU goods.

Such checks would need to be carried out at ports in all EU counties that receive goods from the UK.

If the checks were applied properly, it would cause significant backlog. A delay of just a minute for each vehicle check would cause tailbacks that would inevitably back-up on the other side of the Channel in the UK.

Mr Bertrand is worried that hauliers from the UK would avoid Calais because, as the busiest Channel port, it would potentially face the greatest disruption. He is calling for the minimum of checks – just barcodes.

There is a Brexit rivalry developing between France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Dutch and Belgian ports, including Zeebrugge, Antwerp and Rotterdam, hope to take some custom if hauliers are put off by disruption at the more convenient French ports.

But the judgement over how many checks to put in place – above and beyond barcodes – is not one for Mr Bertrand, but for the central government in Paris and the EU Commission in Brussels.

The greater the checks, the more the disruption to traffic and goods that were previously free-flowing.

Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Downing Street, London, for the House of Commons to meet Conservative MPs ahead of tomorrow's Brexit vote. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday January 28, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire
Theresa May is still seeking approval from parliament over her deal for leaving the EU

Difficult conversions about the degree to which checks should be applied to UK goods entering the EU in the event of a no deal are now taking place between Brussels and all EU countries with ports servicing the UK.

There is huge risk for the EU in applying just minimal barcode checks, as Mr Bertrand is demanding.

By applying only cursory checks and thus minimising disruption, they may protect regional economies, port towns and their own companies supply chains, but they will also critically undermine their core principle – the integrity of the EU single market.

Brexiteers have always claimed that, in the end, the EU would either offer concessions to allow a deal to pass or, in the event of a no deal, would choose not to apply rigorous checks because of the impact on continental regions.

An aerial view of the Eurotunnel in France
An aerial view of the Eurotunnel in France

Mr Bertrand’s concerns, his lobbying of central government, and his call for pragmatism are being used to support this claim.

However, we do not yet know whether EU leaders will listen to his calls or opt instead to apply full checks, take the economic hit the disruption will cause, maintain their single market and, in turn, try to force the UK back into a post-no deal negotiation.

It is likely that the UK would be drawn back into urgent negotiations because the big backlog and supply chain impact for any continental checks will be in the UK, not in France.

It is in Mr Bertrand’s interests to demonstrate that the Calais region is as ready as it can be and to lobby his central government for pragmatism.

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Asked whether the ports he is responsible for will be ready for no deal, he said: “The truth? Calais, Boulogne, Dunkirk – we will be ready at the end of March. And you? Will you be ready?”

Next to the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais, diggers are preparing a massive expanse of land to be developed into a truck park. The UK-bound facilities of all continental ports were designed to operate precisely for the single market and customs union.

A Border Force document leaked to Sky News this week warned of a worst case drop in cross-Channel trade of between 75% and 87%, but a drop of far less than that – just 20-30% – would hugely damage the just-in-time supply chains that UK companies rely on.

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