I have called on the Chancellor to invest in upgrading border and customs systems now – so Britain is ready on day one for leaving the European Union, deal or no deal.
I highlighted the need to press ahead swiftly with the M20 lorry park project as Philip Hammond faced questions from myself and fellow MPs at a Treasury Select Committee hearing. The Chancellor had earlier written in The Times that funding should not be spent yet for preparations for no deal with the EU.
At the hearing, I told him: "Uncertainty is our enemy – but resilience is our friend. Why wouldn't we want world class border systems and road infrastructure? Why don't we make this investment that we need anyway? That means we are also in a really great position – deal or no deal."
The Chancellor said any spending on Brexit preparations would be "specific", depending on whether Britain strikes a deal with the EU – and what that deal will look like. I pressed the Chancellor on the need to get the proposed M20 lorry park at Stanford built in time to ensure "resilience" for Brexit.
The Treasury's recent Customs Bill white paper says that in the event of "no deal" over Brexit – the presentation of goods to customs "would take place inland as much as possible." Mr Hammond said the M20 lorry park "is one of the factors that needs to be considered".
I asked: "How resilient do you believe our borders system and customs system are to handle leaving the single market and customs union on March 29th, 2019?"
The Chancellor said: "We need to prepare for a wide range of scenarios. The commitment we have made is that we will be ready with the necessary minimum structures to operate to system on day one. Will everything we will ever need be in place by day one? Definitely it won't. We will build over time more refined infrastructure to deal with the situation we are facing – once we know what that situation is."
The Chancellor wrote in The Times that funding for preparations for no deal with the EU should only be spent "when it is responsible to do so".
At the hearing I also asked Mr Hammond under what circumstances he envisaged it would be "responsible" to spend funds on preparing for no deal. The Chancellor said where spending is "uniquely required in a no deal scenario... we need to work backwards from March 29th 2019 and identify where we need to make the commitment decision in order to deliver on time."
It's vital that investment in infrastructure like the M20 lorry park and world class border systems begins now. Rather than wait for the EU to get its act together, we must take action now. If we are ready on day one, we can forge ahead on day two.
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