Whitehall failing to prepare border for Brexit, says PAC

11 Dec 17

Government departments are taking a near “reckless” approach to managing the UK border after Brexit, the Public Accounts Committee has said.

In a report on the border after Brexit, MPs on parliament’s spending watchdog said Whitehall has assumed that border checks would stay the same and so planned neither for new infrastructure nor IT systems.

“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,” the PAC said.

“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.”

Committee chair, Labour’s Meg Hillier, said: “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.

“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.”

Past fiascos such as the abandoned e-borders system for advance passenger information, “leave us sceptical that [departments] are up to the challenges of planning for the border post-Brexit, including having enough people to manage it”, the PAC’s report said.

The report noted that in 2016, more than 310m people and nearly 500m tonnes of freight crossed the UK border and the Home Office made 16.3m decisions about people from outside the European Economic Area entering the UK, while HM Revenue & Customs annually processes some 55m customs declarations.

Post-Brexit the volume of decisions about permitting people or goods to cross the border could increase by 230% and 360% respectively, while customs declarations faced a five-fold increase, the report said.

The BPG’s assumption that activity would remain unchanged immediately post-Brexit “is a risky approach”, the committee said, adding “we find this extremely worrying”.

MPs were unconvinced that Whitehall had the necessary leadership and accountability for effective border management in place or was working with sufficient urgency.

The BPG was set up in March 2017 with representatives from 21 departments and agencies, but no person or department had overall accountability for managing the border.

“We are extremely concerned to hear that this crucial group has only met seven times in the eighteen months since the EU referendum,” the report said.

MPs were also concerned that HM Treasury’s usual business model was inadequate for allocating Brexit funding to departments, which were negotiating with it on a case-by-case basis to secure their shares of the £250m available.

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