Britain could face a legal challenge from the World Trade Organization about its post-Brexit border plans, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss warned Cabinet colleagues.
Truss wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove to set out four concerns about plans to manage the border with the EU once the Brexit transition period ends in December.
Her letter reveals the tensions in government over the post-Brexit border plan and the implications any hiccups could have for Britain as it seeks to forge new trading relationships around the world.
In the letter, Truss said her “key areas of concern on border policy risks” were a possible WTO challenge, a lack of sufficient border controls, failures in tariff management and differences in the Northern Ireland regime.
Britain has agreed to waive border checks on imports from the EU for the first six months after the transition period but the EU has not agreed the same for U.K. exports. This means the U.K. could be deemed as giving the bloc preferential treatment, which is against WTO rules.
“When we exit the transition period the U.K. will be vulnerable to a WTO challenge regarding its border regime,” Truss wrote.
She said any difference in tariff controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland could “have political, legal and reputational risks” and warned that insufficient controls at the borders could lead to smuggling. She demanded full control plans by January 2021.
Elsewhere, she said issues with the collection of tariffs could “undermine the effective operation of our trade policy, as well as create significant handling difficulties with negotiating partners” on future trade deals.
Truss concluded: “As we fast approach the end of the transition period, we need to ensure that the U.K. border is effective and compliant with international rules, maintaining our credibility with trading partners, the WTO and with business.”
Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Rachel Reeves said the correspondence “confirms fears that several ministers have been making things up as they go with a lack of awareness of the real world consequences of border policies they’ve had four years to develop.”
Anti-Brexit group Best for Britain called for the full letter to be made public and for any responses from the ministers addressed to be published.
The Department for International Trade said it would not comment on leaks but insisted the U.K. continues its border preparations by hiring more customs agents and developing an IT system to handle paperwork. The full border control plan is set to be published on July 13.
The letter also suggests Britain has reversed a plan to waive export declarations on goods going to the EU.
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