Border IT systems face no-deal Brexit threat

Written by Beckie Smith on 25 October 2018 in News
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National Audit Office warns that 11 of the 12 IT systems in use at the UK border are at risk of being unready if the country leaves the EU without a deal

 

Credit: PA

The National Audit Office has warned that 11 out of 12 critical IT systems at the UK border are at risk of not being ready if the UK leaves the European Union in March without a deal.

The government’s Border Delivery Group, the cross-departmental body leading on border planning, has given amber ratings to 11 IT systems, meaning they are “at risk of not delivering on time and to acceptable quality” by 29 March 2019.

Uncertainty around the outcome of Brexit negotiations has impeded the BDG's ability to fully prepare for Brexit, said the NAO report, and as a result it has not made progress in every area of its remit.

It revealed the group did not begin detailed Brexit planning for the Northern Ireland-Ireland border until July because of the “ongoing sensitivity of negotiations”. The government has yet to decide whether and how to implement customs arrangements at the Irish border if no withdrawal agreement is reached.


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The NAO said it agreed with the government’s assessment that the UK border will be “sub-optimal” in the event of a no-deal exit “and it may take some time for a fully functioning border to be put in place”.

“Individuals and businesses will feel the impact of a sub-optimal border to varying degrees,” auditors said.

Infrastructure that will not be ready in time for a no-deal Brexit includes the systems HM Revenue and Customs will need to track goods and facilities for the Border Force to examine goods, according to the report. This is partly because ports will not invest in facilities before they know the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, it said.

Like other departments, the two agencies are planning to put interim arrangements such as inland checking facilities in place in the event of a no-deal departure while they work on getting complete systems up and running.

How effective these and other “coping responses” will be remains to be seen, the report said.

There could also be a staffing shortfall if no deal is reached, it warned. The Border Force has said there is a “significant risk” it will not have all of the 581 additional border operations staff it has said it would need in place by March 2019.

The report added that many departments’ Brexit work streams are interdependent, which means one delayed programme could have a “multiplication effect” on others.

If the UK and EU do reach a withdrawal agreement, the scale of the work needed to prepare the border for Brexit will be “nowhere near that required” for no deal, the report said.

“However, introducing new border arrangements as part of a ‘deal’ could still involve a large amount of work leading up to and beyond the end of the implementation period in December 2020,” it added.

About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared. She tweets as @Beckie__Smith.

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