UK cabinet minister Michael Gove has backtracked on plans to introduce full border checks with the EU when the Brexit transition period ends, and defied warnings it would be "extraordinarily reckless" not to request an extension.
Mr Gove formally told the EU yesterday that the UK would not ask for a delay despite concerns the departure would compound the economic chaos inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.
However, in scrapping plans to immediately introduce full import controls on EU goods in the new year, Mr Gove said Britain would now phase in changes over six months so businesses hampered by Covid-19 have "time to adjust".
He said "the moment for extension has now passed" despite a stark warning from the first ministers of Scotland and Wales the move would lead to "avoidable" business closures and redundancies.
The move came as the UK economy contracted by more than a fifth in the first full month of lockdown.
Economic activity was down by 20.4pc in April, the largest drop in a single month since records began in 1997, and worse than many experts were forecasting.
After Mr Gove met with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic, the Cabinet Office said a "flexible and pragmatic approach" would now see border checks between Britain and the EU introduced in three stages.
Mr Sefcovic said the EU "remains open to an extension", but said Mr Gove had been "very clear, unequivocal" that the UK will not seek one.
Scotland's Nicola Sturgeon and Wales's Mark Drakeford wrote to Boris Johnson calling for an extension past January 1. "We believe that exiting the transition period at the end of the year would be extraordinarily reckless," they said.
From January, tariffs will need to be paid on all imports.
From April, animal and regulated plant products will require pre-notification and relevant documentation.
In July 2021, traders will have to make declarations at the point of importation and pay tariffs.