LONDON (Reuters) - France is likely to threaten delays on its border with Britain to exert political leverage if there is a no-deal Brexit, British finance minister Philip Hammond said on Wednesday.
Hammond, who has repeatedly called on fellow Conservatives to rule out leaving the European Union without a transition deal to smooth border arrangements and other issues, repeated his view that a no-deal Brexit would cause major economic damage.
A high proportion of British exports and imports to and from the rest of Europe travels between Dover in southeast England and Calais in northern France, and British businesses have warned of shortages of imports if there are delays.
While France is technically capable of managing the customs checks needed for a relatively smooth flow of goods and vehicles after a no-deal Brexit, it might choose not to for political reasons, Hammond said in an interview with broadcaster ITV.
“They will use the deployment of those systems as a political tool in what will be quite a row, if we end up leaving in a no-deal scenario. Think the border between Spain and Gibraltar,” he said.
Traffic crossing the border between Spain and Gibraltar is sometimes subject to hours of delays when Spain wishes to emphasize its long-standing objection to British sovereignty over the territory.
Both contenders to succeed Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister this month, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, have refused to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
Hammond has said he will oppose this, and said he believed lawmakers had the powers to stop a prime minister’s suspending or “proroguing” Parliament to force a no-deal Brexit through.
“There will be attempts I’m sure in Parliament to prevent the prorogation, ... and if they are unsuccessful and anyone was foolish enough to try to prorogue Parliament, then I’m sure there will be action in the courts. We’d have to challenge it,” he said.
Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Frances Kerry and Leslie Adler