The public spending watchdog has criticised the government for failing to prepare for Brexit and said between 40% and 70% of laden HGVs travelling to the EU will not be ready for Customs requirements.

In a report into the country’s preparedness for the end of the transition period, the National Audit Office (NAO) said it was now “very unlikely” that businesses would be ready, particularly if the EU implemented full controls at its border.

The report said: “Some of this uncertainty could have been avoided, and better preparations made, had the government addressed issues sooner, such as expanding the customs intermediary market, developing a solution for roll-on, roll-off traffic, upscaling customs systems and determining the requirements for infrastructure to enforce a new compliance regime.”

The NAO said preparations to manage the border remained challenging and they had been significantly affected by ongoing negotiations and the impact of Covid-19.

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Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “The 1 January deadline is unlike any previous EU Exit deadline – significant changes at the border will take place and government must be ready.

“Disruption is likely and government will need to respond quickly to minimise the impact, a situation made all the more challenging by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Logistics UK said it had been working closely with the government to highlight issues that could affect the smooth passage of goods through the supply chain: “Much has been achieved,” said policy director Elizabeth de Jong, “but there is still much to be done if disruption is to be avoided from 1 January 2021, with detail still required in order for logistics operators to brief and train staff, and adopt new processes for declarations, tariff calculation and payments.

“As always, we stand ready to provide all support necessary to make Brexit a success but need government to provide us with the information we require, in detail and at pace.”