- REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
- A new report by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has attacked the government’s Brexit planning.
- It said the government’s plan for how the UK border will function after Brexit is based on “wishful thinking” and is “borderline reckless.”
LONDON – The UK government’s approach to preparing the borders for life after Brexit is “borderline reckless” and risks leaving the country dangerously exposed, a parliamentary committee has warned.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) released a report on Friday which accuses Theresa May’s government of being too complacent in how it is preparing Britain’s borders for the potential outcomes of Brexit.
The government is over-reliant on “wishful thinking that risks immediately exposing the UK to an array of damaging scenarios,” the report says.
It highlights that HMRC estimates customs checks and declarations for goods entering and leaving the country could increase five-fold – to 250 million per year – as a result of Britain’s planned departure from the single market and customs union.
It also expressed concern that the government’s Border Planning Group, set up this year to manage the impact of Brexit on Britain’s borders, has met just seven times since the referendum and has failed to address key issues.
For example, the group’s scope doesn’t include the 300 border crossings between Northern Ireland and the Republic, which will all require increased checks unless British and EU negotiators are able to maintain an invisible border.
It complains that, despite the risks of a vastly increased workload, the government has decided not to install extra physical infrastructure on the borders in time for exit day in March 2019. The government also doesn’t expect new IT systems to be in place by that date, the report says.
Committee chair Meg Hillier MP 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.”
“This approach, in the context of what continues to be huge uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with the EU, might generously be described as cautious.
“But 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.”
The report adds that the Treasury is yet to provide government departments with the funds they need to prepare for Brexit, which has led to border preparations being insufficient.
The government has been warned by transport experts that leaving the EU with no deal would unleash “disorganisation and chaos” at Britain’s borders.
James Hookham, deputy chief executive of Britain’s Freight Transport Association, said that a no-deal Brexit would mean significantly increased customs checks at Dover creating queues of lorries reaching over 5o miles.
Yet, despite these warnings, the government is failing to produce sufficient contingency plans, the PAC has said.
Hiller, the MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch added: “Last month we reported on the threat of chaos if HMRC’s new customs system is not ready in time for Brexit and there is no viable fall-back option.
“We were deeply concerned by the lack of progress on this back-up plan. It is now alarming to note such weak contingency planning extends across government departments.
“The volume of traffic at the border under current arrangements is substantial: in 2016, around 300 million people and 500 million tonnes of freight crossed it.”
“After Brexit, the number of decisions required about people or goods crossing could more than treble and more than quadruple respectively.
“These figures should concern all in government and in our view its current approach is not fit for purpose.”