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Widespread disruption likely at border when transition ends

06 November 2020

The National Audit Office has issued a report saying it is likely that widespread disruption will occur from 1 January 2021, at the end of the post-EU Exit transition period.

In its fourth report assessing government’s preparations at the border, the NAO highlights that planning for 1 January 2021 has built on work done for previous EU Exit deadlines, but COVID-19 has exacerbated delays in government’s preparations and significant risks remain, particularly in relation to implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol and trader readiness more generally.

Even if government makes further progress with its preparations, there is still likely to be significant disruption at the border from 1 January 2021 as traders will be unprepared for new EU border controls which will require additional administration and checks. The government’s latest reasonable worst-case planning assumptions, from September 2020, are that 40% to 70% per cent of hauliers will not be ready for these new controls and up to 7,000 lorries may need to queue at the approach to the short Channel crossings, such as Dover to Calais.

The government’s plan for reducing the risk of disruption at the approach to the short Channel crossings is still developing, with various issues yet to be resolved.

Departments have made progress towards implementing the systems, infrastructure and resources required to operate the border in relation to Great Britain at “minimum operating capability” by 1 January 2021 and are reasonably confident most will be ready, but timetables are tight. The ability for traders to move goods under transit arrangements is a key element of the government’s plans but some elements will be challenging to deliver in their entirety. 

HMRC currently estimates that there will be around 6.3 million movements of goods under transit arrangements in the year following the end of the transition period. If all the planned arrangements are not ready, this could have an impact on the ease with which traders can import and export goods.

There is little time for ports and other third parties to integrate their systems and processes with new or changed government systems, and contingency plans may need to be invoked for some elements. In part as a result of the delays caused by COVID-19, there is limited time to test individual elements and resolve any emerging issues; ensure elements operate together; familiarise users with them in advance and little or no contingency time in the event of any delays.

Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at Logistics UK said: “Logistics UK has been working closely with government for some time to highlight the issues which could affect the smooth passage of goods through the supply chain after the end of the Transition Period. Much has been achieved but there is still much to be done if disruption is to be avoided from 1 January 2021, with detail still required in order for logistics operators to brief and train staff, and adopt new processes for declarations, tariff calculation and payments.  As always, we stand ready to provide all support necessary to make Brexit a success but need government to provide us with the information we require, in detail and at pace.”

 
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