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- Brexit could cause gridlock at UK borders and ports, MPs have warned.
- Home Affairs Select Committee urged government to finalise customs plans.
- A report said plans so far lack “focus, urgency, and above all leadership.”
LONDON – The first day of Brexit could see large queues of lorries in Kent and at the Irish border if the government does not adequately prepare its customs arrangements, MPs said on Thursday.
The Home Affairs Select Committee gave its strongest criticism of Brexit preparations to date, saying that the government’s future customs arrangements lack “focus, urgency, and above all leadership.”
The report warned that a no deal scenario would mean a “vast increase” in the “capacity and processes” which would be needed at the UK border.
Failure to plan for Brexit could leave the UK facing traffic jams like those seen in 2015 when an emergency holding plan known as “Operation Stack” was deployed to cope with French ferry operators going on strike, the report said.
It meant 30 miles of parked lorries queuing to get into the Port of Dover, causing motorways in the south-east of England to be shut down by the police.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chair of the committee, said: “As things stand, the government is running the risk of celebrating their first day of Brexit with the sight of queues of lorries stretching for miles in Kent and gridlock on the roads of Northern Ireland, which would be incredibly damaging to the UK economy and completely unacceptable to the country.
“Contingency planning is essential. If the government gets this all wrong, we could be facing Operation Stack on steroids.”
The report also suggested that a “lead government minister” be appointed to deal with customs planning in order to deal with the lack of leadership on these issues.
Cooper added: “We expect a speedy response to this report from the government to demonstrate that it has now taken these vital matters in hand – and we want to know which minister is in charge. The current pace of contingency planning is insufficient and risky.”
According to the report, “remaining in the customs union would cause the least disruption.” But, failing that, a transition period is necessary for businesses to adapt to new customs rules successfully.
Labour MP Stephen Doughty, a leading supporter of Open Britain said: “Today’s report highlights the sheer scale and complexity of the problems that leaving the Customs Union will create and the huge costs of setting up new facilities and thousands of new customs and border staff.
“Nearly half our trade is with the EU, and the possible imposition of new red tape and queues at the ports is unthinkable for many businesses. A ‘no deal’ outcome in March 2019 would cause utter chaos, resulting in huge tail-backs at our ports and the return of a hard border in Northern Ireland.”
The verdict follows a report earlier this week from the Public Accounts Select Committee, which said that failure to have a working customs system in place by Brexit day would be catastrophic for business and Britain’s reputation.