Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned that government departments will not have the IT systems in place to deal with radically changed border controls when Britain leaves the European Union (EU) in March 2019, creating a potentially “risky” situation when the shift takes place.
In a report on the issue, the PAC said that departments say they are planning for a scenario in which the UK leaves the EU without a transition period in place – a so-called “hard Brexit” – but are not making the necessary preparations for the IT systems or physical infrastructure that would be necessary to deal with such an eventuality.
“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 in its study. “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 PAC urged the government’s Border Planning Group and departments to accelerate detailed planning for a “no-deal” Brexit and to present a report on the matter by June of next year.
It was “worrying” that the group said it could not make plans for the Irish border and the 300 border crossing points because it “needed the political process to go further before it could fully understand the issue”, the PAC said.
The number of decisions needing to be made about permitting people or goods to cross the border could increase by 230 percent and 360 percent respectively, depending on the result of current negotiations, according to the committee’s estimates.
The government bodies that may need to make radical changes in how they approach border issues includes the Home Office’s Border Force, HMRC and Defra, the PAC said.
Previous border IT snarls, including the abandonment of the e-Borders programme, mean many border processes rely on ageing IT systems or are paper-based.
PAC chair Meg Hillier MP said government’s assumption of no additional border risks emerging from EU exit was inappropriate with the exit deadline approaching.
“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,” she said in a statement.
Last month the PAC warned of border chaos if HMRC’s new customs system is not running by the time Brexit occurs, and Hillier said the government’s lack of preparedness now seems to be more widespread than previously thought.
“It is now alarming to note such weak contingency planning extends across government departments,” she said.
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