Scottish independence: Physical customs checks ‘required on two main trunk roads after independence’

Physical customs checks would be required on the two main trunk roads between Scotland and England under Nicola Sturgeon's plans for independence.

The First Minister confirmed checks would be undertaken on both the A1 and A74(M), which becomes the M74, as part of the Scottish Government’s updated prospectus.

Elsewhere, she said she hoped an independent Scotland could move to a new currency within five years, but was unable to provide a firmer timetable.

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Ms Sturgeon said a “stronger, fairer, more sustainable economy” for Scotland was only possible under independence as she launched the third in a series of papers setting out the Scottish Government’s updated case at Bute House in Edinburgh.

Nicola Sturgeon holds a press conference to launch the third paper in the Building a New Scotland series. Picture: David Cheskin-Pool/Getty Images
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She insisted the 108-page document would “openly and frankly” address people’s questions.

The paper says an independent Scotland would apply to rejoin the EU and the Scottish Government “would put in place measures to smooth any checks required as a result of Brexit on goods moving to and from England and Wales”.

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It says “a substantial package of practical help for traders” would be provided to adapt to the new arrangements and to support continued trade with the rest of the UK.

The document says the estimated value of Scotland’s manufacturing exports to markets in the EU and the rest of the world was £19 billion in 2019, compared to £11bn to the rest of the UK. However, agricultural, fishing, retail and wholesale exports to the rest of the UK are much higher than to the rest of the world.

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The paper says traders would benefit from Scottish and UK border authorities agreeing to a single set of checks, rather than two stages for the same goods.

It says: “Both the UK and Scottish Government authorities could be authorised to undertake customs checks on each other’s behalf.

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“Sharing responsibility for customs checks is something that happens on the Norway-Sweden border and, together with the use of technology, has the result that most goods traffic travelling across the border are cleared by customs within three to nine minutes.

“Any actual physical checks would likely only be undertaken on the two main trunk routes between England and Scotland or at rail freight terminals.”

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Answering questions from journalists, Ms Sturgeon admitted “arrangements” would need to put in place for the transport of goods.

But she insisted border checks "can be done in a way that doesn't disrupt trade".

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She said: "We are being candid here about the implications of Scotland being back in the EU and the rest of the UK, wrongly in my view, is out.

"That is a feature of Brexit, and the benefits Scotland gets from that, in my view, outweigh the challenges that we would face."

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She suggested technology could be used to make the process more efficient.

Ms Sturgeon said rejoining the EU would mean regaining access to the single market, "which is seven times the size of the UK market", adding: "That is a massive advantage."

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The First Minister said most of Scotland's trade with the rest of the UK was in services.

She said: "With manufactured goods, we actually export more to the rest of the world than to the UK, which is why getting back into the single market is important.

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"But we would learn from international best practice."

Ms Sturgeon insisted: "I'm not standing here saying all of that is without challenge, or all of it is always straightforward and easy.

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"But these challenges are not insurmountable if we do the proper thinking, analysis and planning, which is what we kick off with this paper today."

Ms Sturgeon suggested the other roads between Scotland and England would not need physical customs checks.

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Asked how queues and backlogs would be managed, she said more detail would be set out in a future paper.

The First Minister said any talk of passports was “utter nonsense” as Scotland would remain in the Common Travel Area with the rest of the UK and Ireland.

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Elsewhere, the paper sets out plans to use sterling as an independent Scotland’s currency, before moving to a new Scottish pound when the “time is right” and as “soon as is practicable".

The First Minister repeatedly refused to give a timescale for moving to the new currency.

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She said Scotland was free to use sterling without the agreement of the UK, but this would mean its monetary policy was still governed by the Bank of England.

She said: "Now that, for a transitional period, is necessary. But we do not consider that that is a sensible position longer term."

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Ms Sturgeon said it would not be "responsible" to put a timescale on the transition to a new currency, adding: "If you tie yourself into a specific timescale, you could end up trying to do it at a time that would not be optimal."

In the paper, a number of economic tests must be met before such a move, including that a new Scottish central bank would establish the “credibility” of the currency, creating sufficient reserves and Scotland being “fiscally sustainable”, as well as the Scottish Parliament approving the shift.

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Membership of the EU – one of the Scottish Government’s key arguments for independence – would not be possible until Scotland had control of its monetary policy and currency, but the First Minister said negotiations for access to the bloc could go forward during the transition phase to a new currency.

When asked if the timescale could be five or ten years, the First Minister said she hoped it would take less time than that.

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The document also sets out plans for a £20bn fund that would invest in capital projects in the first decade after independence.

The Building a New Scotland Fund would use a mixture of oil and gas revenues and borrowing to fund projects that would aim to enable the transition to net zero, drive “inclusive economic growth” and “build resilient and sustainable places”.

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Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the paper was trying to “sell a pig in a poke”, adding: “It’s completely the wrong priority at the worst possible time for Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon should be using Government resources to help struggling families instead of to push for another divisive and unwanted referendum.”

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Scottish Labour finance spokesman Daniel Johnson said the Scottish Government had “no answers to the key economic questions” of independence.

He said: “What Nicola Sturgeon and her nationalist government plan to do is to drive Scotland into decades of economic chaos and austerity so that they can pursue their constitutional obsession.

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“Rather than deliver solutions to this economic crisis, the SNP want to gamble with the finances and public services of the people of Scotland.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the plan was “a dangerous recipe for years of chaos”.

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