Full customs checks for EU goods to be deferred, report claims

New HMRC system given more breathing room as Border Delivery Group moved from tax agency to Cabinet Office

Credit: Ralf Roletschek/CC BY 3.0

The UK is set to abandon plans for full border checks with the European Union on January 1 in favour of a “flexible” approach.

According to The Financial Times, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has accepted that businesses will be unable to cope with both the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit-related disruption at the border once the UK’s transition period with the  bloc comes to an end.

The government had previously said that goods coming in from the EU would face the same customs checks as those from other countries.

The new arrangements will reportedly be in place for six months, with only controlled goods expected to face immediate checks.

The FT reports that both industrial and agricultural goods will benefit from a looser checks regime, while the Treasury will allow VAT payments to be deferred for months after goods have been landed.

A government source said: “We recognise the impact that coronavirus has had on UK businesses, and as we take back control of our laws and our borders at the end of this year, we will take a pragmatic and flexible approach to help business adjust to the changes and opportunities of being outside the single market and the customs union.”

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The extra demands placed by the impending EU exit on the Customs Declaration Service IT system – which HM Revenue and Customs had already begun work on implementing at the time of the 2016 referendum – has been one of government’s major Brexit-preparation challenges. The system was originally designed to be able to cope with 100 million declarations annually – comfortably enough to handle the pre-Brexit yearly total of about 55 million.

The departure from the EU will necessitate an extra 200 million declarations each year. This massive jump in the scale of the CDS project has seen the likes of the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office express frequent concerns about the ability of HMRC to deliver the platform in time for Brexit.

Last summer, the tax agency floated a two-year digital-support contract seeking a tech specialist to help the department meet what it described as “ambitious timelines”.

‘The best border in the world’
The Border Delivery Group, which oversees the government’s plans for the UK border after the Brexit transition period, was previously based in HMRC but has now been moved to the Cabinet Office. 

The team will now be known as the Border and Protocol Delivery Group, prime minister Boris Johnson announced last week.

“This change is effective immediately and will help to ensure readiness of the border for the end of the transition period and lay the foundations for the best border in the world by 2025,” he told MPs.

Existing ministerial responsibilities for the group remain unchanged, he said. The group coordinates, supports and oversees work by government departments and agencies to address challenges to post-Brexit border security, revenue and trade.

In the last five months, the BDG has sought several new personnel including a technical director of future borders; a deputy director for EU transition readiness and engagement; a deputy director for EU roads relationship and monitoring; and a future borders programme director.

It is currently hiring for an information systems assurance deputy director, who will be responsible for assuring the border planning executive group, the transition portfolio board, ministers and the cabinet-level XO committee that departments are delivering their transition period border-related IT changes.

They must ensure “robust contingency plans” are in place and that systems are fully tested to ensure they are ready for the new regime.

The job advert for the up to £90,000-a-year role described the BDG as a “high-profile place to work in government”, and its work as “exciting and challenging”. 


Sam Trendall

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