Britain’s borders could face “widespread disruption” once the Brexit transition period ends on December 31, largely due to coronavirus-related delays hindering the government’s implementation of new systems, warns a report issued last week by the UK’s National Audit Office.
According to the government watchdog, it is “very unlikely that all traders, industry and third parties will be ready for the end of the transition period, particularly if the EU implements its stated intention of introducing full controls at its border from 1 January 2021.”
Recognizing this, the UK government “is putting in place arrangements to monitor issues as they emerge,” the report says. However, it also notes “there remains significant uncertainty about whether preparations will be complete in time, and the impact if they are not.”
Customs System a Concern
In its preparations for a possible no-deal exit the Government had prioritized security, safety, and the flow of people and goods over compliance, said the NAO. This includes the collection of revenue, meaning borders are likely to be operating in a “less than optimal” way.
Upscaled customs systems to control the estimated 400 million import/export transactions and 6.3 million movements of goods under transit arrangements in 2021 were flagged as a particular worry, “with a high risk traders will not be ready.”
The NAO said if new systems or processes were not ready, it would disrupt imports and exports, and warned “there is little time for ports and other third parties to integrate their systems and processes with new or changed government systems.”
Robert Keen, Director General of the British International Freight Association says that the NAO assessment corresponds with what the group is hearing from its members, which believe that it will take some time for a fully functioning border to be put in place.
“BIFA anticipates that the businesses which use its members’ freight forwarding and logistics services to conduct cross-border trade between the EU and the UK, will feel the impact of a sub-optimal border to varying degrees,” says Keen.
“With less than two months to go to the end of the transition period, BIFA members are still waiting for the government to provide complete information and clarity on the processes by which cross-border trade will be conducted at the end of the year; the systems that will underpin those processes; and assurance that those systems, which have yet to be tested, will actually work, and be able to do what is necessary.”