The UK is in danger of failing to recruit the 50,000 customs agents needed to prevent major queues at its borders if it crashes out of Europe without a deal at the end of the year.

The British International Freight Association (BIFA) is warning that the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the recruitment and training of staff needed to process an additional 200 million customs declarations that will be required if the UK leaves Europe without securing a trade deal.

BIFA is helping to train workers to process the new paperwork with funding from a £34m government programme postponed until at least June this year.

However the number of monthly registrations for its online learning course has dropped sharply since February.

A BIFA spokesman told that its online digital Customs Declaration Training course had proved “incredibly popular”, with 1,298 delegates undertaking the online Customs Declaration Training in 2019.

He added that since February the numbers on the course had crashed, due to the impact of the pandemic.

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“In February 2020, BIFA had 244 registrations who all completed the course. In March and April combined, it was 96 - so a significant drop,” he said.

The RHA is urging the government to either agree a deal or negotiate an extension to the transition period.

The association warned this week that crashing out of Europe at the end of the year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic would wreak further damage on the economy and the workforce.

RHA policy and public affairs MD, Rod McKenzie told us: “The figure of 50,000 trainees is based on the amount of form filling that will be needed if the UK crashes out of Europe.

“Since the government has ruled out an extension, we are back to the position we were in last October with a no-deal Brexit still very much on the table and the problems and delays that would create at borders.

“RHA would like to see a deal agreed as quickly as possible and if that is not possible under the current circumstances then we would urge the government to seek an extension to the transitionary period.”

A DfT spokesman said thousands of agents, freight forwarders and parcel operators had used the £34m fund to improve IT systems and train staff.