Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge, has called a newly published National Audit Office (NAO) report a “damning insight into the Government’s lack of preparation should the UK leave the EU next March”. The report published today by the NAO (24October 2018) has highlighted that there are serious risks to the UK’s border operation even if a Withdrawal Agreement is reached due to the timeframe to implement new border procedures.
The report states that in the event of a no-deal Brexit UK border operations would be in serious risk, identifying that 11 out of 12 critical systems that require changing or replacing before next March may not be delivered in time, or to an acceptable quality. The delivery of effective border control is one of the biggest challenges for the UK, which includes resolving the Northern Ireland and Ireland border to allow for smooth cross boarder movement.
Daniel Zeichner MP said: “Today’s report is a damning insight into the Government’s lack of preparation should the UK leave the EU next March, with the NAO highlighting serious risks posed to the country if we leave without a deal. From start to finish question after question is raised as to how the UK is going to effectively manage border checks and controls irrespective of whether a deal is reached or not. There is no time left to prepare for Chequers. There is no time left to plan for no-deal. So why is the Prime Minister pushing ahead with March 29 as the date the UK must leave the EU?”
“I say, she may do well to listen to the 700,000 people that were marching in London last weekend calling for a vote on the final deal. People that voted leave did not do so to see delays at the borders, increases to checks on goods, the stockpiling of medicines or for a less safe country because we don’t have the necessary systems in place to manage our borders.”
“The Government has accepted that border operations will be ‘less than optimal’ if there is a no-deal but that is not an acceptable position. The poor handling of these negotiations has lead us to a situation where the UK border agency has not got the time to plan or implement the necessary systems and procedures to carry out effective border operations after next March.”
The NAO report has referenced that the political uncertainty and delays in negotiations have limited the departments’ border planning, with time to plan and implement being reduced. As a result, a number of changes required may not be ready under a ‘no deal’ scenario, which include:
· 11 of 12 critical systems needing to be replaced or changed to manage the border were at risk of not being delivered on time and to acceptable quality.
· New infrastructure to track and physically examine goods cannot be built before March 2019. Without this, the UK will not be able to fully enforce compliance regimes at the border on day one.
· Border Force intends to recruit 581 staff by March 2019 and expects to increase its staff in the months following. However, given uncertainty regarding the future regime, and the length of time it takes to recruit, security clear and train staff, Border Force acknowledges that there is a significant risk that it will not deploy all the staff it plans to recruit by 29 March 2019.
· There is an increased delivery risk due to the high interdependence between ‘at risk’ government programmes reliant on another ‘at risk’ programme. For example, seven of the most critical border systems are interdependent with the Customs Declaration Service and/or its legacy system CHIEF (Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight); and all must be ready on day one for the border to operate as planned.
· The most complex issues relating to the movement of goods at the border, such as arrangements to apply at the Northern Ireland and Ireland border and a system that will allow roll-on roll-off ferry ports and Eurotunnel to operate smoothly still need to be resolved.
AmyasMorse, the head of the NAO, said today: “Government has openly accepted the border will be sub-optimal if there is no deal with the EU on 29 March 2019. It is not clear what sub-optimal means in practice, or how long this will last. But what is clear is that businesses and individuals who are reliant on the border running smoothly will pay the price.”