UK has only begun planning for Border in event of no-deal Brexit

British watchdog says lack of preparedness could ‘create security weaknesses’

 The watchdog’s 48-page report lays out starkly how unprepared UK government and state agencies are to cope with the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. Photograph: Alan Betson

The watchdog’s 48-page report lays out starkly how unprepared UK government and state agencies are to cope with the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A British government group set up to prepare borders for Brexit has only recently begun detailed planning work for Northern Ireland, the UK’s spending watchdog has said.

The National Audit Office says in a new report that the Border Delivery Group, the cross-government oversight group preparing the UK’s borders for after it leaves the EU, had not been able to address important areas of its responsibilities due to time constraints and the stalled EU-UK negotiations over Brexit.

The UK government’s planning assumptions for the Irish Border “would aim to take into account different types of business, consider the feasibility of new systems and ensure the facilitation of cross-border movements”, says the report by the audit office, which scrutinises the operation of government departments.

The watchdog’s 48-page report lays out starkly how unprepared UK government and state agencies are to cope with the possibility of a no-deal Brexit and the UK crashing out of the EU in March 2019.

HM Revenue and Customs estimates that 145,000-250,000 traders would need to make customs declarations for the first time in the event of no deal and that it would have to process 260 million customs declarations a year, up from 55 million currently.

Too late

“Government papers from July 2018 stated that it was already too late to ensure that all traders were properly prepared for ‘no deal’,” said the report.

The watchdog says exporters have not had enough time to prepare for new Border rules and 11 of 12 major projects to replace or change Border systems were at risk of not being delivered on time or to an acceptable quality. The UK government has accepted the Border will be “less than optimal’ on “day one of no deal”.

Organised criminals are “likely to be quick to exploit any perceived weaknesses or gaps in the enforcement regime,” the report says. This, combined with the UK’s potential loss of access to EU security, law enforcement and criminal justice tools, could “create security weaknesses” that must be addressed urgently.

The report comes a day after the British cabinet was told that plans are being drawn up to charter ships to bring in emergency supplies of food and medicines if there is no deal on Brexit and warned that the Dover-Calais route could become blocked by new customs controls on the French side.

The UK land-bridge is a critical supply route between Ireland and continental Europe; about 80 per cent of all Irish goods exported to continental Europe pass through Welsh and English ports.