MPs raise digital concerns over post-Brexit borders

Ambitions to have world-leading systems within three years are ‘optimistic’, according to PAC

Credit: Danny Howard/CC BY 2.0

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has raised concerns about the government’s ability to successfully deliver the major digital projects needed to meet the goal of making the UK’s post-Brexit border systems “the most effective in the world”.

In December 2020, the government set out plans to make the UK’s border world-leading by 2025. In a report published this week, the MPs on the spending watchdog asked the government to explain in detail how it will achieve this ambition, which it said was “optimistic, given where things stand today and we are not convinced that it is underpinned by a detailed plan to deliver it”.

The plans will rely on cross-government digital programmes, but the government has a poor record in delivering large-scale IT projects, they added.

One of the main hurdles to the goal is the Northern Ireland Protocol, which necessitates checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK to allow goods to be delivered without checks when crossing the border from Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland.

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Both the UK and EU have raised concerns about the implementation of the protocol. PAC said the government should continue negotiating with the EU to resolve the issues and ensure that departments are ready to implement any changes to the protocol or adapt if an agreement cannot be reached. 

PAC also found that government needs to do “much more” to tackle border delays, while also reining in costs that have increased, reducing administrative delays for traders, and providing more support for small and medium-sized businesses.

Meg Hillier, chair of PAC, said: “One of the great promises of Brexit was freeing British businesses to give them the headroom to maximise their productivity and contribution to the economy – even more desperately needed now on the long road to recovery from the pandemic. Yet the only detectable impact so far is increased costs, paperwork and border delays. The PAC has repeatedly reported on Brexit preparedness and at every step there have been delays to promised deadlines. It’s time the government was honest about the problems rather than overpromising.”

A government spokesperson said: “Traders have adapted well to the introduction of full customs controls on 1 January, with minimal disruption at the border and inbound freight flowing effectively through ports.  We are continuing to ensure that businesses get the support they need to trade effectively with Europe and seize new opportunities as we strike trade deals with the world’s fastest growing markets, including one-to-one advice through the free-to-use Export Support Service. As an independent trading nation, the UK has secured over £760bn worth of trade deals with more than 70 countries plus the EU, including landmark deals with Australia and New Zealand.”


Sam Trendall

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