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Nearly all the major projects to replace or change key systems at the UK border are at risk of not being delivered by the time the country leaves the European Union, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
An NAO report on the UK border’s preparedness for leaving the EU found that 11 of the 12 “critical systems” at the border are at risk of “not being delivered on time and to acceptable quality”.
Should the UK leave the EU without a deal on 29 March 2019, this could have implications for any border crossings, involving “goods, people, services, and areas of cooperation such as data-sharing and security”, the report said.
“The precise impact would depend on whether the UK and EU could quickly reach agreement on issues such as travel, data-sharing and customs arrangements before March 2019,” it added.
A key reason for the delays to the systems is that departments’ effectiveness in planning and preparing for Brexit has been affected by the uncertainty surrounding the government’s negotiations with the EU.
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is delivering most of the systems, including the new Customs Declaration Service (CDS), which is also experiencing delays. The department went live with the first phase of the system in August 2018, covering parts of the import functionality, and had planned to roll out the export functionality by December 2018.
But despite HMRC’s previous confidence in rolling out the system on time, the NAO report said HMRC had confirmed that the export functionality is being delayed and “would now not be ready until March 2019 at the earliest”.
The report added: “As the negotiations have been further delayed in 2018, there have also been changes in the focus of departments’ planning effort as the likelihood of ‘deal’ and ‘no deal’ scenarios has fluctuated.”
Read more about Brexit and the UK border
- There is no evidence of any technical solution “anywhere in the world” that would help avoid physical infrastructure at the UK-Ireland border post-Brexit, according to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
- Prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit speech highlights need for data protection deal with EU, “advanced” border IT systems, and reconfirms that UK won’t be part of the EU digital single market.
- Tech won’t solve potential customs issues at the border post-Brexit, at least not in the short term, and especially not in case of no-deal Brexit, according to a House of Lords report.
This has had a snowball effect on the other systems, as at least seven of them have “interdependencies with the CDS” or the legacy Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (Chief) system, the NAO said.
NAO head Amyas Morse said the government has “openly accepted that 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,” he added. “But what is clear is that businesses and individuals who are reliant on the border running smoothly will pay the price.”
Systems at risk of not being ready include the system that will provide traders with tariff classifications, which is currently rated amber-red, meaning its success is in doubt, mainly because of its dependence on CDS.
HMRC is also unsure whether it will be able to deliver the “full capability and infrastructure for the Common Transit Convention [CTC] project within the required timeframe, and there are increased risks around delivery and testing for CDS”. That project is currently rated red.