France ramps up border controls in preparation for no-deal Brexit

PARIS (Reuters) - France is hiring 700 additional customs officers and extra border control facilities in preparation for a potential no deal in Britain’s negotiations over its divorce from the European Union, the minister in charge of customs said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: French Minister of Public Action and Accounts Gerald Darmanin leaves the Elysee Palace following the weekly cabinet meeting in Paris, France, February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin said half of the new customs officers would be hired by the end of this year, ahead of Britain’s expected departure on March 29, 2019.

“We absolutely have to prepare for the worse, that is to say that in March there is no legal relationship with Great Britain,” Darmanin told France Bleu Nord radio.

With less than six months to go until Britain leaves the EU there is still no agreement on divorce terms and clarity on a new trade relationship.

Darmanin said that while the northern port of Dunkirk regularly handled goods from outside the EU, the government was looking for a new customs facility in nearby Calais, which handles mainly trade with Britain.

The fortunes of Calais and the wider Hauts-de-France region are closely intertwined with the UK’s future trade ties.

Darmanin also said plans were being made for a new scanner that can scan freight trains passing through the Channel Tunnel linking England and France at 30 km an hour (19 miles and hour).

“The departure of our British friends from the common market will have negative consequences,” Darmanin said.

“We have to re-establish the border because otherwise people in the single market will not understand why companies from outside the EU’s rules have access to the single market.”

Separately, Darmanin told Les Echos newspaper that merchandise coming from Britain could face up to four separate customs procedures under a post-Brexit regime against only one currently.

That could translate into an extra two minutes per truck going through border controls, which could potentially lead to long queues gridlock in ports, he said.

Reporting by Leigh Thomas; editing by Richard Lough, William Maclean