The government is showing a worrying lack of leadership in its approach to post-Brexit customs arrangements, according to the Home Affairs Committee, in a new report which highlights numerous shortcomings in government’s preparations for trading when the UK leaves the EU.
In a new report, the Home Affairs Committee said it was dissatisfied with the answers to the “vitally important question: who is in charge”?
It continued: “Government’s approach seems to us to lack focus, urgency and all leadership. Any progress seems to rely on working groups of government officials, with no meaningful ministerial leadership.”
The committee recommended that a senior government minister should take the lead on post-Brexit customs arrangements, and that with multiple agencies and departments involved a “joined up approach from Government is urgently needed”.
The report, Home Office delivery of Brexit: customs operations, also expresses deep concern that road haulage businesses do not have enough time or information to prepare for Brexit.
The report states that the scenario that would cause the least upheaval for traders would be the government striking a deal with the EU that preserved current procedures at UK borders, and that government should aim for this.
But, said the Home Affairs Committee, if no deal is reached traders are already up against the clock with preparation time and they cannot afford to lose any more.
Brexit secretary David Davis has said he wants to reach an agreement on any transition period by the end of Q1 2018.
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The select committee's report responded to this with: “This timescale already poses immense difficulties if significant changes are required. If there is any further slippage to this timetable it will be extremely damaging to businesses.”
Allie Renison, the Institute of Directors’ head of EU and trade policy, recently told the Treasury Select Committee and the International Trade Committee that said businesses needed to know of any transitional arrangements by the end of 2017 so they could make spending plans for the next financial year.
The committee also called for a “major contingency plan” in case government does not reach a deal with the EU.
“The country cannot afford “no deal” arrangements to be left until the last minute,” the report said, and called for ministers to lay out a timetable for necessary decisions in early 2018.
The report welcomed the government’s plans to expand trusted trader and warehouse schemes, branding them “sensible” but said that even this need government to provide businesses with “much more information immediately” about what these plans mean and require from them.
Regarding the new customs IT system, the select committee said it is “deeply worrying” that there is little leeway between the expected delivery date of the Customs Declaration Service – January 2019 – and the UK’s EU departure.
Last week the Public Accounts Committee flagged up the fact that CDS did not even have sufficient funding to upgrade its capacity to deal with the consequences of Brexit.
The Home Affairs Committee added that any changes to infrastructure of technology need to be mirrored on the other side of the channel to avoid build ups on approach roads like those seen in the summer of 2015 during French ferry operator strikes.