Jacob Rees-Mogg said implementing post-Brexit border checks in full would be an “act of self-harm” last week after he delayed the measures for the fourth time.
The Brexit opportunities minister, stood outside the Euro Tunnel, told reporters that free trade is “hugely advantageous to consumers” in an astonishing interview which saw him branded a Remainer.
He admitted that pushing back checks would save £1 billion, which is effectively admitting that implementing them would cost £1 billion.
But British ports have already moved to prepare for the transition, bringing in high-tech facilities that risk becoming multimillion-pound “white elephants”, according to the latest reports.
UK Major Ports Group, a trade body for the largest operators, estimates that the industry has spent £100 million to construct the new border facilities, with an additional £200 million provided in post-Brexit government grants via the Port Infrastructure Fund.
“This now looks like wasted time, effort and money to develop what we fear will be highly bespoke white elephants,” the group said.
Mike Sellers, director of Portsmouth International Port, said they had built a £24 million facility on the orders of the agricultural department Defra and that staff had already been recruited to run the facility.
“We now face significant capital liability on a building for which the future is uncertain,” he said. “This has always been raised as a concern with ministers and their officials and we will be pursuing compensation from the government as we look to recover costs.”
Stephen Morgan, Labour MP for Portsmouth South, accused the government of wasting public money.
“[The port’s] profits help fund local services and the impact of this unexpected and unfair bill will be felt across the city unless the government takes responsibility for its poor planning,” he wrote in a letter to Rees-Mogg seen by the Financial Times.