EU ultimatum: Boris told to scrap lucrative ‘Singapore-on-Thames’ plan or face trade hell

Brexit: Expert says Europe is ‘nervous’ about UK’s direction

Ministers are said to be drawing up plans to turn the UK into the “Singapore of Europe” by slashing taxes and restrictive EU imposed regulations post-Brexit. Boris Johnson hinted at the prospect of tax cuts for entrepreneurs just last month. During an online Facebook event with business leaders, Mr Johnson said that his government would examine the tax and regulation environment and would do everything “to encourage and support business”.

But now Brussels is threatening the UK with relentless post-Brexit chaos unless the Prime Minister abandons his vision.

A senior EU diplomat told The Times: “Of course we can in future discuss how to have less friction.”

But he added: “Discussing further facilitation or ways to reduce friction would depend on what the UK is doing and where they want to go.

“Initiating that conversation and negotiation will not be made easier if the other side of the table is talking up deregulation or Singapore on the Thames.”

“It’s clear that the Trade and Co-operation Agreement doesn’t cover everything so we have to continue to be in touch with the UK and whether we call it negotiations or not doesn’t matter,” the diplomat continued.

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Yesterday, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) warned that the end of the Brexit transition period has produced deep-seated structural problems which will not be quick to resolve.

Hauliers said a 12-month grace period and urgent financial aid is needed to iron out problems with the post-Brexit Irish Sea trade border.

Volumes of trade from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland has fallen sharply and many suppliers are avoiding the route. Dozens of lorries have been left sitting in yards in Great Britain.

The UK Government insisted “goods are flowing effectively” between Britain and Northern Ireland.

But RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “This is a financial precipice haemorrhaging money.

“There needs to be financial intervention immediately.”

It is quicker to send goods between Northern Ireland and Spain than from the rest of the UK, the hauliers said.

New customs declarations were taking 12 hours, when hauliers were promised it would take 30 seconds, they said.

Some drivers who can depart Irish Sea ports are having to produce 300 pages of paperwork, the transport firms added.

Dozens of staff helping with red tape are off sick because of coronavirus, the industry said.

Some freight companies are seeing a third of business disappearing, Mr Burnett added.

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He warned: “There are going to be jobs lost, that is the bottom line here.”

He said issues encountered since the end of the transition period were not teething problems.

He added: “These are significant structural issues.

“Government needs to intervene quickly with financial support to address this issue.”

Peter Summerton, managing director of haulage company McCulla Ireland, said these were not temporary problems.

He asked: “What are we trying to do? Break the Northern Ireland economy by breaking Northern Ireland hauliers?

“The trade imbalance cannot be maintained, it is not unfettered access.

“We can move products from Northern Ireland to Spain faster than we can move products from England to Northern Ireland.”

Another haulier, Paul Lutton, addressed a virtual meeting organised by the Labour Party on Wednesday.

He said: “I know we are insignificant to you in Great Britain, we are only a small town but we want to be part of Great Britain.

“You have said you can be, you are not helping us out.

“I am flabbergasted.”

The delays are caused by the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol, which means the country must follow the EU’s customs rules to prevent a hard Irish border.

A UK Government spokesman: “Goods are flowing effectively between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and there is no disruption at Northern Ireland ports. The grace periods for businesses moving goods between GB and NI are in operation and working well.

“We are aware of specific issues related to moving mixed food loads, known as groupage, and new guidance is coming soon following a successful trial with industry.”

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