Brexit preparations have cost France €200million a French minister has told MPs.
At least 1,300 extra officials and new infrastructure to reimpose border checks were the main expenses, said Public Accounts Minster Olivier Dussopt.
“We have recreated a border, which is unheard of, particularly as it concerns one of our country’s most active crossing points, he told the Assemblée Nationale’s finance commission.
“It is exceptional due to how close Britain is to us, the variety of ways people cross – for example vehicles transported via ferries and the tunnel’s shuttles – and a volume of traffic in both directions which amounts to 30 million passengers per year and five million HGVs.
“On top of that there’s very frequent turnaround in the Hauts-de-France, with traffic in the tunnel every three minutes, and 50 arrivals and departures of ferries per day at the Port of Calais.”
He said the existing infrastructure had never been intended to deal with third country rules, but rather one with EU free movement. “We had to use our imagination and invest,” he said. “An enormous amount of work has been done over the last three years.”
Among the results was an ‘intelligent border’ system where only vehicles that contain goods require extra formalities or customs checks. Vehicles concerned are identified by their number plates.
The Douanes (French customs services) have brought in new IT systems and opened new offices, notably at Calais and Dunkirk. So far 600 extra customs officers have already been recruited and trained and 100 more will be recruited next year.
A total of 177 new full-time border police have also been recruited, and 84 reserve (part-time volunteer) police, to manage extra checks required since January 1.
For veterinary and plant checks there are 466 full-time workers, especially at Boulogne-sur-Mer where there is a centre for checking fish and seafood coming into France, 24 hours a day, including where it came in via other ports.
“In total this means for the French state more than 1,300 jobs, in a budgetary context of which you are all well aware. We also had to adapt the infrastructure notably on the Channel and North Sea,” he said.
In total the cost to the state would be €200million, not including additional support to the fishing industry, which is losing part of its right to fish from British waters.
Mr Dussopt said that there was “good news” in that “the congestion we feared did not take place” and there had been over 90% of the usual traffic at the ports and the new systems were working.
Less positive points included the fact that there were still not enough customs officers, not all firms were prepared, and there was “an asymmetry between what we consider the very good preparations on our side and less good preparations on the British side”.
He said: “We note malfunctioning of some of the systems put in place on the British side, which have caused frequent stoppages in transit at the border, and the lack of customs offices for carrying out formalities and personnel on the British side.
“I’m thinking notably of unloading fish in Scotland, which is currently impossible in respect of the rules. A lot of French firms used to fish in the North Sea and unloaded in Scotland with road transit through England and across the Channel.
“There’s a large amount of technical work still to be done by the French Douanes together with their British counterparts and the French Agriculture Ministry.”
He said the Douanes’ regional services will be intensifying their help to businesses. The government will also be working to boost the attractiveness of the Hauts-de-France region to investors.
The minister noted also that the UK has put off full customs formalities on imports until July 1 and will only communicate details of its arrangements by April 1. Further adaptations will be needed by French firms after that, Mr Dussopt said.