The UK government plans to introduce mandatory “readiness checks” on lorries at ports to reduce queues following a no-deal Brexit, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
Hauliers who are not ready for customs will be diverted away from border points with France to reduce queues building up on the approaches to Dover and the Eurotunnel, the NAO said in a report.
The NAO said there was limited time to get the necessary infrastructure and staff in place to undertake these checks and work out how they will operate in practice, as well as to inform hauliers before 31 October.
Government worst-case planning scenarios see the flow of goods across short Channel crossings dropping to between 45% and 65% of normal levels after a no-deal Brexit.
It could take up to 12 months for normal levels of crossing to resume and currently only 30-60% of hauliers travelling to the EU border have appropriate documentation.
Describing the uncertainty of what might happen at the border, the NAO said the most significant risks to the smooth operation of the border were now out of government’s control.
One of the most significant risks was that organised crime might be able to exploit chaos at the border.
This could happen as the government has prioritised security and safety at border points followed by the collection of revenue.
“This comes with financial risks, as in the short-term it will not require EU traders to provide all the information at the border that it requires of non-EU traders,” said the NAO.
The report said it was likely that organised criminals would quickly exploit any perceived weaknesses or gaps in enforcement.
“It is impossible to know exactly what will happen at the border in the event of no deal. Government accepts the border will be less than optimal, which could mean disruption of goods crossing the border and queues for businesses and the public,” said the report.
Temporary measures to give businesses more time to prepare and facilitate the flow of traffic include Transitional Simplified Procedures which allow registered businesses to delay submitting customs declarations and payment of customs duties on imports from the EU to the UK.
However by the beginning of this month, only 25,000 of the 150,000-250,000 traders that may need to make a customs declaration on day one of the exit from the EU with no deal in place had registered for the scheme.
Government preparations for a no-deal Brexit include upgrading existing systems and developing sites to deal with the expected increase in goods entering the UK under transit arrangements.
Around 500 more Border Force staff will be recruited in 2019 and 2020 to carry out extra checks.
“However, despite government’s efforts, there is still work to do and little time to resolve any issues which may emerge,” said the NAO.
“Government has also not been able to address the most significant risks relating to the border, although it has tried to minimise the impact of these.”
Temporary arrangements for managing trade crossing the land border from Ireland to Northern Ireland in the event of no deal are unlikely to be sustainable, added the report.
“There is still uncertainty about border arrangements that the Irish government would introduce, including what checks it would impose or where they would take place,” it added.
The Freight Transport Association said: “In spite of the industry’s best efforts, delays and disruptions cannot be and should not be excluded, at a time when logistics and supply chain managers are less able to mitigate disruptions due to high demand for transport and warehousing capacity ahead of the Christmas period.”
Meanwhile three companies have won contracts for the express freight service to deliver medicines and medical products within 24 to 48 hours in case of a no-deal Brexit.
UPS, DFDS and Biocair won contracts for the Department of Health and Social Care’s express freight service.
The new service aims to use express logistics networks to ensure that patients and care providers have uninterrupted access to medicines and medical products.
Contracts will include next-day delivery on small consignments, 48-hour delivery for larger loads and specialist services, including hand-delivered courier services, if needed.