Published On: Wed, Sep 4th, 2019

Brexit news: France suffers customs meltdown as hard Brexit risk increases for EU | World | News

Rodolphe Gintz, the country’s customs chief, became “one of the first victims of Brexit” after he was sacked after just two years in the role. Despite seeing off a corruption case against his office and a customs investigation into a case involving his speedboat – inevitably Britain’s European Union split has been Mr Gintz downfall. His effort to hire close to a thousand extra customs agents to handle the potential the return of a hard border with Britain has been shrouded in controversy.

French taxpayers have been forced to fork out for hefty pay hikes and monthly bonuses for some 17,000 agents as the country readies itself for a no-deal Brexit.

The pay increase comes as most customs agents were told they would have to work eight-hour shifts after Brexit, and will receive almost identical rates for night shifts.

But withholding tax funds has resulted in the elimination of thousands of posts across the country, many withdrawn from the customs authority.

The Democratic Confederation of Labour claimed “the summer had been a murderous one” for staff preparing for Brexit.

France’s economy ministry warned Brexit is a “strategic moment for the customs administration”.

Officials warn that tension is growing as more employees are being called upon to carry out no deal experiments in the coming weeks.

From mid-September, Calais officials will test a so-called “smart border” that will be put in place for lorries crossing the Channel after a no-deal Brexit.

Gerald Darmanin, France’s new customs minster, said: “For a month, we’re going to pretend there is a Brexit.

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Michel Barnier’s deputy, Stephanie Riso, told EU27 diplomats that a no-deal Brexit has never been closer.

Ms Riso said Brussels is still waiting for plans to be presented by Mr Johnson’s team, which could arrive when David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, holds talks in the Belgian capital today.

She told EU capitals: “On the other hand we have been waiting for quite a while for different ideas and proposals and these haven’t come forward.”

An EU source said: “The Commission debriefed member states on the recent contacts and the last meeting with Frost. The long and short of it is no concrete proposals, not even a sketch of them yet.”

Brussels fears that no deal is becoming more likely because of Mr Johnson’s push towards a Canada-style free trade agreement.

Diplomats and officials believe this decreases the chances of finding an alternative solution to the backstop because of Britain’s desire to diverge from EU regulations.

A European Commission spokeswoman said: “We are progressively making progress in pursuing the talks because we are meeting now more often.”

“What we are discussing at the moment are alternative arrangements to the backstop and what we need is concrete wording, concrete proposals, which are compatible with the withdrawal agreement,” she added.

“The withdrawal agreement is not now something being discussed.”

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