The National Audit Office has published its fourth report on UK preparedness for 1st January 2021, warning “it is very unlikely that all traders, industry and third parties will be ready for the end of the transition period, particularly if the EU implements its stated intention of introducing full controls at its border from 1 January 2021”.
Other key takeouts from the 83 page full report include:
Although government departments have made progress in recent months implementing the changes required to systems, infrastructure and resources to manage the border at the end of the post-EU Exit transition period, it is still likely that widespread disruption will occur from 1 January 2021.
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.
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.
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.
There is more to do on how the ‘Check an HGV’ system will be enforced and how it will work together with traffic management plans for Kent.
While civil contingency plans are being made to ensure continuity of the supply of critical goods, COVID-19 is making these more difficult to enact, with local authorities, industry and supply chains already under additional strain.
Due to the scale and complexity of the changes, the lack of time and the impact of ongoing negotiations, there is a very high risk the Northern Ireland Protocol may not be implemented in time. It will be challenging to establish the new £200m Trader Support Service (TSS) by 1 January 2021.
During 2020 Government has announced £1.41 billion to fund new infrastructure and systems, and wider support and investment. Despite this, there remains significant uncertainty about whether preparations will be complete in time, and the impact if they are not. Some of this uncertainty could have been avoided, and better preparations made, had the government addressed sooner issues such as the need for an increase in the number of customs agents to support traders.
The NAO says that government must continue to focus its efforts on resolving the many outstanding issues relating to the border and develop robust contingency plans if these cannot be addressed in time for the end of the transition period.