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Friday, November 06, 2020

More warnings abut disruption to trade after Brexit

As if we did not have enough to worry about, the Guardian reports on warnings by the National Audit Office that billions of pounds worth of trade with the European Union will face “significant disruption” on 1 January, regardless of whether a trade deal is agreed.

The NAO say crucial IT systems have yet to be tested and transit areas for lorries are not ready as the government attempts to prepare new border controls for the end of the Brexit transition period. The planned controls, which had already been rated “high risk”, have been further hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, according to their report released today.

They add that officials have still not taken the steps required to ensure there were enough customs agents, while civil contingency plans to maintain the supply of medicines and acquire extra freight capacity away from the main Channel crossings have been difficult to enact due to Covid-19:

Auditors highlighted concerns about the checks that will be required for goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera), which is responsible for checks on agri-food products, had been “severely hampered” by a failure to reach an agreement with the EU and a “lack of clarity” over the measures required. As a result, Daera had concluded it would not be possible to complete the necessary work on its systems and infrastructure by 1 January. It said it was having to explore “contingency options”.

Auditors said the government had left itself little time to mobilise its new trader support service, which will help businesses moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This meant there was a “high risk” traders would still not be ready when the new arrangements take effect.

According to the government’s latest “reasonable worst case planning assumptions”, between 40% and 70% of lorries travelling between the EU and the UK may still not be ready for the new border controls. Ministers have already warned hauliers they could face queues of up to 7,000 lorries at the main Channel crossings. The NAO said while arrangements were being developed to minimise delays, these depended on new technology and would require the engagement of both trades and hauliers. There is little time left for ports to integrate their systems and processes with new government systems, and they may have to fall back on “manual processes”, it said.

The government has identified seven inland transit sites for lorries and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has said getting them all ready for 1 January was proving “very challenging”.

Ministers have delayed the imposition of full import controls on goods coming from the EU until July 2021. Auditors said there was still uncertainty over where the infrastructure would be located and whether it would be ready in time.

HMRC still needs to make significant changes to its customs systems to handle the increase in customs declarations, the report said, even though it had known this was likely to be necessary since planning for a no-deal Brexit began in 2017.

Omnishambles would be too polite a word for this mess.
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