There is limited time left to set up the required infrastructure to undertake checks of HGVs bound for the continent in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

In a report into how government departments have been preparing the border for an exit, the NAO said it was “impossible to know exactly what will happen” should the UK leave the EU without a deal on Hallowe’en.

It said the government’s reasonable worst-case planning assumptions state that the flow of goods across the short Channel crossings could initially fall to 45-65% and take a year to return to normal flows.

The report said: “In forming this estimate it assumed that 30-60% of hauliers travelling to the EU border will have appropriate documentation.

“Therefore, government plans to introduce mandatory readiness checks on lorries to identify and divert hauliers who are not ready for French customs to reduce queues building up on the approaches to Dover and Eurotunnel."

But it added: “There is limited time to get the necessary infrastructure and staff in place to undertake these checks, finalise how they will operate in practice, and inform hauliers ahead of 31 October.”

The NAO said that as of early October 2019, just 25,000 out of the 150,000 to 250,000 traders that may need to make a customs declaration on day one in the event of a no-deal had registered for ‘transitional simplified procedures’, which would allow them to delay submitting customs declarations and payment of custom duty imports from the EU to the UK.

It added that the government had also acknowledged that temporary arrangements for managing trade crossing the land border from Ireland to Northern Ireland were unlikely to be sustainable.

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Pauline Bastidon, FTA head of European and global policy said that despite the industry’s best efforts, “delays and disruption should not be excluded at a time when logistics and supply chain managers are less able to mitigate disruptions due to high demand for transport and warehousing capacity ahead of the Christmas period".

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “Preparing the UK border for EU exit with or without a deal is extremely complex and has required a huge amount of work from many government departments, agencies and third parties such as traders.

“Despite their efforts, significant risks remain which may have consequences for the public and businesses.”

The NAO report came as an SMMT survey showed that one in three automotive firms is already cutting jobs amid escalating fears of a no-deal Brexit, a figure that has increased from one in eight 12 months ago.

The SMMT said some of the largest automotive manufacturers have spent £500m in an effort to mitigate some of the risks of a no-deal scenario, but that the 10% tariff on finished vehicles will push many to the wall: “As the Brexit clock ticks ever closer to midnight, this survey reveals the bleak future that awaits this vital sector in the event of no-deal,” said Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive. “Damage has already been done: investment is haemorrhaging, competitiveness being undermined, UK jobs cut and vast sums wasted on the impossibility of preparing for no deal.”