The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has published a report stating that they “do not expect all new or updated IT systems to be ready” by March 2019 when the UK exits Europe.
The summary to the report also states: “Government departments are assuming that the risks to managing the border will not change immediately when the UK leaves the EU, and that border checks will therefore be the same after March 2019 as they were before.”
According to the report:
In 2016, more than 310 million people and nearly 500 million tonnes of freight crossed the UK border. In the same year, the Home Office made 16.3 million decisions about the rights of citizens from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to enter the UK. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) currently processes around 55 million customs declarations on imports and exports each year.
“Once the UK leaves the EU, the number of decisions needing to be made about permitting people or goods to cross the border could increase by 230% and 360% respectively, depending on the outcome of negotiations.”
Digital Services at the Border
The I.T systems at the UK borders are run by several departments including Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Home Office. In the past these organisations have failed to deliver new and updated systems on time, or on budget. These past problems have left the committee “skeptical that they are up to the challenges of planning for the border post-Brexit.”
The Digital Services at the Border (DSAB) programme from the Home Office, which replaces the failed e-Borders programme is currently being rolled out. Started in 2003 and due for completion in 2011, at a cost of £600 million, it introduces I.T. systems to secure the UK’s borders. However it’s now estimated that it will be at least 2019 before the it’s live, with an estimated cost of £1.1 billion.
These delays have been compounded by a high turnover of staff and the committee is concerned the government is not taking the risks associated with technology at the border seriously enough.
According to the report: “Around 30 of the 85 I.T. systems used at the border will need to be replaced or changed in some way when the UK leaves the EU. This includes requirements for five entirely new systems and three replacements, including systems currently provided by the EU.”
The report goes onto note: “Major changes to border management are difficult to make and will require strong coordination across government and with many stakeholders.
“Given the track record it seems unlikely that all the new systems needed to manage the border effectively after we exit the EU will be successfully delivered, and even if things go to plan, departments accept already that not all the systems would be ready by March 2019.”
According to committee chair Meg Hillier, the government’s assumption that there will be no real differences at the border post-Brexit is leading to inaction: “It has acted – or rather, not acted – on this basis. This approach, in the context of what continues to be huge uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with the EU, might generously be described as cautious,”
“But against the hard deadline of Brexit, it is borderline reckless – an over-reliance on wishful thinking that risks immediately exposing the UK to an array of damaging scenarios.”
Customs Declaration Service
HMRC’s new Customs Declaration Service (CDS), which will replace the existing 25 year-old Chief customs system for handling import and export freight from outside the EU, is currently due to go live in January 2019, just two months before the official leaving date. HMRC’s chief executive Jon Thompson has already gone on record to say it would be “catastrophic” if the new system was not ready in time.
The report concludes: “The current negotiations bring significant uncertainty, but the new Border Planning Group (the Group) and government departments need to step up and be prepared for the possibility of a no-deal scenario and for the costs of all potential options. It is worrying that we were told that the Group could not plan for any challenges around the Irish border and the 300 crossing points, as it needed the political process to go further before it could fully understand the issue.”