France to treat Britain 'like South Africa' in no-deal Brexit dress rehearsal

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Trucks queued up on the Dunkirk-Calais motorway as French customs officers increased controls in protest at a lack of resources for Brexit. Photo: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Tens of thousands of French firms trading with Britain will face a one-month “dress rehearsal” for a no-deal Brexit, a French government minister has announced.

Gerald Darmanin, the minister in charge of customs, is due to meet Britain’s top no-deal Brexit minister Michael Gove in Calais to show France’s preparations on Friday afternoon.

He told the French radio station RTL that the country will subject firms to the same customs requirements they would face if Britain leaves without a deal in advance of Britain’s departure “to ensure we are absolutely ready in October.”

The practice run will see firms trading according to the rules of the World Trade Organization, and as though they were trading with South Africa. “Simply put, there’s more administration than if it were Belgium or Spain,” he said.

It comes amid widespread fears of significant disruption at British and French ports, with concerns new customs checks will cause significant new delays.

A no-deal Brexit would see Britain lose its right to continue the current frictionless trade arrangements with the EU, its biggest trading partner.

READ MORE: UK issues thinly veiled threat to France over no-deal Brexit

Darmanin said 700 new customs officers had been hired, adding that the country was innovating with an “intelligent frontier.” He did not appear to specify when the new checks would begin.

He said: “You are in Grenoble, you export to Great Britain, you declare everything on the internet. There will be barcodes and scanning of licence plates.

“Your goods will go directly to Britain without being stopped at the border, unless there are checks because you are thought to be smuggling or carrying counterfeit goods.”

It comes just two days after Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay called for further talks with French officials to help “mitigate” the risks of a no-deal Brexit, as well as more “generous” rights for Brits living in France.