French check UK-made goods in first Brexit dress rehearsal

French customs officials chose trucks carrying Airbus wing parts and baby equipment imported from the UK for special inspections on Thursday in a rehearsal for a possible no-deal Brexit that could disrupt cross-Channel trade. "We are preparing as if there is no deal," said Gerald Darmanin, the French budget minister responsible for customs, as the Brittany Ferries vessel Mont St Michel from Portsmouth disgorged trucks and holidaymakers' cars and caravans on to the Ouistreham dock in the early morning drizzle. "If there's a deal we'll adjust and it'll be a little easier.

And if there's no deal that means Great Britain for us is a market equivalent to South Africa." France says a no-deal Brexit as early as October 31 is now the most likely outcome despite more than two years of EU-UK negotiations, and it has been accelerating preparations with manufacturers, truckers and logistics groups to handle the nearly 5m truck movements a year between French ports and the UK -- 80 per cent of them from other EU countries such as Germany and Spain. Without a Brexit deal, trade from the UK that has hitherto flowed unhindered across the EU's single market will be subject to customs tariffs and safety inspections, and veterinary controls.

On Wednesday the UK government bowed to pressure from parliament to disclose controversial documents setting out its "worst-case scenario" in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

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According to the government's Operation Yellowhammer plan France could potentially impose EU mandatory controls on goods coming into Dover on day one, cutting the flow of lorries going across the Channel by 40-60 per cent and causing severe disruption for up to three months.  France is hiring and training an extra 700 customs officers and has spent EUR40m on a new IT system and facilities for handling and inspecting trucks in ports such as Calais at the French end of the Channel tunnel. The Caen rehearsal -- at a port with only three ferry sailings a day to the British city of Portsmouth -- is the first of a series of tests to be held in French ports in the coming weeks, including the biggest freight terminal at the mouth of the Channel tunnel in Calais.

During Thursday's rehearsal in Normandy, customs officers divided vehicles into "green" for those with advance online clearance and "orange" for those requiring inspections of their documents or cargo.

The job of the French government, at the request of the French president, is that it should be a divorce with as little pain as possible

Two trucks with Airbus wing parts made in the UK and destined for the company's assembly plants in Toulouse, and one lorry with Tommee-Tippee babies' dummies and other baby equipment from UK company Mayborn, were designated orange. "Either the British will stay within the norms because until now they are supposed to manufacture within EU norms, or they will adopt rules that are much more flexible and then we will inspect them as if they were Chinese or American products," said a customs officer named Nicole, as she examined the baby dummies taken from a box in the lorry operated by the transportation group XPO Logistics. "They will be rigorously treated in the same manner as a 'third country' not in the EU," she added, declining to give her family name. "There's no preferential treatment if it's a really hard Brexit."

Airbus has repeatedly warned of the risks of Brexit, and chief executive Guillaume Faury said at the end of July that it was "obvious" no-deal was likely. French president Emmanuel Macron and his ministers have insisted they want to maintain good relations with the UK after Brexit, whether it is hard or soft, but their immediate priority is to protect from disruption the 100,000 French companies that they estimate trade with the UK. Mr Darmanin said there would be "no traffic jams" on the French side because the French authorities were prepared for Brexit.

But he added: "It's obvious that Brexit is not the same as no Brexit.

If you separate from your partner, your wife, your husband, it's not the same as when you are married . . .

Now the job of the French government, at the request of the French president, is that it should be a divorce with as little pain as possible."

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