Coronavirus Bill temporary border closures clause 'would stop illegal imports'

Tue 24 Mar 2020
Posted by: Ana Pintor
Trade News

New legislation to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak could enable the Home Secretary to request ports and airports to temporarily close and suspend operations.

Once passed, the Coronavirus 2019-21 Bill will give officials powers to close the UK’s borders if Border Force is unable to deal with intense pressure due to staffing shortages.

The government website states that such measures would “ensure the UK can maintain adequate border security throughout the pandemic and protect the public from the threat of criminality or importation of prohibited items that could result from an inadequately controlled border”.

It goes onto say that the powers would only be used “in extremis” and kept to a “minimum period necessary to maintain the security of the UK border”.

The move comes after Michael Gove, the minister leading Brexit preparations, agreed the UK would need 50,000 new staff to process paperwork needed to for border operations.

Six-hour block

The initial suspension would last for up to six hours before an extension for a further six hours can be given. After the initial 12 hours, extensions can be issued at further 12-hour intervals.

At each point of extension, the government must demonstrate that the port needs to be closed for the protection of Border Force staff and society at large.

The Coronavirus 2019-21 Bill will give government wide-ranging powers to deal with the impacts of the outbreak, including new enforcement measures on people movements announced by the Prime Minister last night (March 23).

It is likely to become law by the end of Thursday, according to the BBC.

Businesses need to be able move cargo quickly

The IOE&IT’s training team has advised that when ports are closed, businesses will need to be able to quickly divert their cargo to other ports. It is assumed that should smaller ports close, Border Force staff could be diverted to larger ports to keep as much cargo flowing as possible.

Marco Forgione, director general of the IOE&IT, said:

“All must be done to ensure that, now more than ever, goods are able to move efficiently across borders.

“When Border Force is stretched unlike at any other time, it is essential that businesses ensure that their paperwork is faultless, their teams have up-to-date knowledge and understanding, particularly of Incoterms and customs certification.

“If in doubt, the IOE&IT has a helpline available and provides online training available under the UK Government’s Grant Scheme.”