France's Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin was on hand at the Normandy port of Ouistreham – near the D-Day beaches stormed by Allied forces in 1944 – for the early morning arrival of a ferry from Portsmouth.
He said France was “ready”, but he said he remained a “a bit worried about how the British are preparing” as the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson published alarming documents warning of Brexit queues and disruption.
France's Budget minister Gerald Darmanin, right, in the port of Calais with Britain's Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove and Ambassador to France Ed Llewellyn. Photo: AFP
As French officers directed lines of passenger cars toward passport controls and customs declarations, others boarded lorries and began cutting open boxes of baby pacifiers for sanitary checks.
“Up until now, they are supposed to conform with EU norms,” a customs agent told AFP.
“So either the British keep doing so, or they apply norms that are less restrictive and in that case, we'll inspect them just as we would with Chinese or American products,” she said.
“France is ready… these tests prove it,” Darmanin told journalists after the exercise, expressing confidence that “there won't be any traffic jams in France.”
A no-deal Brexit is possible on October 31st, meaning France will have to start inspections on a wide range of goods arriving from Britain for the first time in 46 years.
To ease trade disruptions, France has spent some €40 million and hired 700 extra customs officers.
Authorities have scrambled to set up a “smart border” with cameras to scan the license plates of trucks heading to Britain and automatically link them to shipping documents filled out online by exporters.
Darmanin said British preparations were a source of concern.
“You don't re-create a border that hasn't existed for several years… in just a few hours,” he said.
British government documents released on Wednesday said up to 85 percent of British lorries may not be ready for French customs checks in the event of no-deal, reducing the “flow rate to 40-60 percent of current levels.”
That could spark shortages of food and crucial medical supplies, the Yellowhammer report warned.
While most larger French firms have prepared for the new bureaucracy, officials worry about many of the 100,000 smaller French companies which sell in Britain.