Published: 07:00, 10 November 2020
| Updated: 14:40, 10 November 2020
The government has been warned by business chiefs it risks catastrophic widespread disruption at Channel ports in Kent after Brexit because new IT systems are not ready and will not work.
The warning was made during a House of Lords select committee hearing examining contingency plans that could be implemented after Brexit in January.
Peers were told the new IT system designed to deal with a huge increase in customs declarations was not yet ready and was unlikely to be ahead of January.
At the same, a spending watchdog has warned Covid-19 has affected preparations for checks on goods entering and leaving the UK.
The National Audit Office says that although the government has undertaken a significant amount of work on systems and infrastructure, the Covid-19 pandemic has “exacerbated delays in government preparations and significant risks remain”.
It also highlighted that there was more to do on how the Kent Access Permit - which will be required by hauliers to enter the county en route to Europe - wouldbe enforced and how it would work together with traffic management plans for Kent.
The report said the government was aware of the prospect of delays and was putting in place plans to monitor issues but there was still a “risk that widespread disruption could ensue”.
It added that there remained “significant uncertainty about whether preparations will be complete in time, and the impact if they are not”.
It said some of this uncertainty could have been avoided, and better preparations made, had the government addressed sooner issues such as...developing a solution for roll-on, roll-off (RORO) traffic, upscaling customs systems.
About 6.3 million movements of goods are estimated under transit arrangements in the year following the end of the transition period.
The government is introducing a new system, the Customs Declaration Service (CDS), to replace the old Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (Chief) system.
But the new system CDS was criticised when business chiefs warned it was not ready and did not work.
Des Hiscock, director general of The UK Association for International Trade, warned the consequences could be catastrophic.
“We need to agree a co-ordinated mitigation plan with HMRC and this industry if we are to achieve any success.
"There are two challenges that need to be addressed: the first is obviously the UK's unnecessary insistence on pursuing this untested and incomplete system; it is not going to be ready; it is unreliable; its functionality has been significantly reduced.
"It takes 45 times longer to complete a CDS declaration. It just does not make sense.”
He added that legitimate businesses would be operating on an unfair import playing field as goods entered the UK unchecked for the first six months after January 1.
“This is definitely going to be abused... but more importantly, it is totally unnecessary.”
Commenting on the report, Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier said it was clear that whatever happens “there will be disruption at the border in January".
"The government simply hasn’t given businesses enough time to prepare,” she added.