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Defra still to test six ‘critical’ IT systems before Brexit

MPs have raised concerns around Defra’s Brexit readiness as it hasn’t yet begun testing six critical IT systems needed to replace EU systems, but the department remains confident

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has yet to test six of its critical IT systems needed for Brexit, according to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

MPs on the committee have highlighted their concerns over the department’s readiness in a report, which said Defra has an “enormous task leading up to EU exit”.  

A number of critical IT systems have not been tested, and guidance on how to use them has yet to be issued, with only a few months to go before the UK leaves the EU.

“The department is developing six critical IT systems that have not yet been fully tested,” the report said. “These are needed to replace EU systems to which the UK will no longer have access.”

MPs are particularly concerned in the event of a No Deal Brexit, but Defra told the committee it is “confident its systems will be available in time for a no-deal scenario in March 2019”. However, it recognised “some issues are bound to arise as a result of its end-to-end testing”.

“It acknowledged it cannot predict what these issues will be and told us that working to a fixed deadline and dealing with such scale and complexity does mean it is carrying high risk and cannot guarantee it will be able to deal with all the issues that arise in time,” the report said.

PAC chair Meg Hillier said the department’s Brexit border planning “is not sufficiently developed, six critical IT systems are still to be tested and there is a risk that in the department’s rush to prepare necessary legislation, the quality of that legislation will suffer”. She added: “Defra is up against it, but there is more it must do to assure parliament, businesses and the wider public it has a firm grip on its responsibilities.”

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  • The government’s No Deal Brexit planning document on data protection warns free flow of personal data from EU isn’t guaranteed, and organisations must take action to ensure they will still be able receive data from Europe.
  • Of the 85 IT systems at the UK border, 30 will need to be replaced or changed due to Brexit, but critical new or updated border IT systems won’t ready by the time the UK leaves the EU, PAC report finds.
  • The Treasury and HMRC are putting measures in place to support the customs sector should the UK leave the EU with no deal, including funding to increase automation and training.

The systems include the food import notification system, which is one of the most complex of the six. The department told the committee it’s proceeding well, and testing will take place in January and February 2019, shortly before the UK leaves the EU.

“The department anticipated there will be issues but said it has contingency plans ready depending on what the tests show,” the report said.

“It recognised there are huge challenges saying that ’the thing that keeps me awake at night is the fact we cannot know until we have gone through this process [end-to-end testing] what we will find’. The project has been rated amber/green by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority but the department concedes there is still a lot to do.”

Another system, which replaces the registration, evaluation and authorisation and restriction of chemicals (Reach) system, currently used to register chemical products, is about the enter its testing phase.

It’s seen as an “unsophisticated” system which addresses “the basic needs of industry with a contingency solution to enable it to function at greater scale and with better functionality in the longer term”.

Three of the other systems are due for testing in January.

“We remain concerned there will be so much concurrent critical testing activity in January, leaving little time to resolve issues that arise,” the PAC said.

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