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UK border could be exposed from first day of Brexit

8 December 2017

The Public Accounts Committee report says Government assumptions about behaviour are risky and planning is too reliant on transitional period.

Departments not planning major new border infrastructure for March 2019

Government departments are assuming that the risks to managing the border will not change immediately when the UK leaves the EU, and that border checks will therefore be the same after March 2019 as they were before.

They are therefore not planning for any major new physical infrastructure at the border by March 2019, and do not expect all new or updated IT systems to be ready by that date.

Departments say they are planning for a no-deal scenario, but do not expect there to be many changes whatever the position in March 2019.

Officials relying too much on there being a transitional period

We are very concerned that their assumptions are risky and do not allow for changes in behaviours by companies trading across the border or people crossing it. Particularly in the event of a no-deal scenario, the border could be exposed to risks on day 1 of the UK's departure.

Officials are relying too much on there being a transitional period in order to have the time to develop the new systems and infrastructure that may be required.

The current negotiations bring significant uncertainty, but the new Border Planning Group and government departments need to step up and be prepared for the possibility of a no-deal scenario and for the costs of all potential options.

It is worrying that we were told that the Group could not plan for any challenges around the Irish border and the 300 crossing points, as it needed the political process to go further before it could fully understand the issue.

Chair's comments

Comment from Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:

"Government preparations for Brexit assume that leaving the EU will present no additional border risks from freight or passengers. It has acted—or rather, not acted—on this basis.

This approach, in the context of what continues to be huge uncertainty about the UK's future relationship with the EU, might generously be described as cautious.

But against the hard deadline of Brexit it is borderline reckless—an over-reliance on wishful thinking that risks immediately exposing the UK to an array of damaging scenarios.

Last month we reported on the threat of chaos if HMRC's new customs system is not ready in time for Brexit and there is no viable fall-back option.

We were deeply concerned by the lack of progress on this back-up plan. It is now alarming to note such weak contingency planning extends across Government departments.

The volume of traffic at the border under current arrangements is substantial: in 2016, around 300 million people and 500 million tonnes of freight crossed it.

After Brexit, the number of decisions required about people or goods crossing could more than treble and more than quadruple respectively.

These figures should concern all in Government and in our view its current approach is not fit for purpose."

Further information

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