UK trade with the EU faces “significant disruption” when the transition period ends in January, according to an independent government spending watchdog.
Government departments have made progress preparing for the end of the EU transition period, but the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned widespread disruption is likely from 1 January 2021.
The NAO’s fourth report assessing preparations said that government must continue to focus on resolving the many outstanding issues relating to UK borders post-transition and develop robust contingency plans if these cannot be addressed in time.
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “The 1 January deadline is unlike any previous EU Exit deadline – significant changes at the border will take place and government must be ready.
“Disruption is likely and government will need to respond quickly to minimise the impact, a situation made all the more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The report notes that it is "very unlikely that all traders, industry and third parties will be ready for the end of the transition period, particularly if the EU implements its stated intention of introducing full controls at its border from 1 January 2021".
The report concluded that departments have made progress towards implementing the systems, infrastructure and resources required to operate the border in relation to Great Britain at “minimum operating capability” and are reasonably confident most will be ready.
However, timetables are tight.
New rules for Northern Ireland
The government will also need to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol from 1 January 2021.
It is investing £200 million on the Trader Support Service (TSS), a free-to-use service which will reduce the burden on GB and NI traders and carriers involved in moving goods to NI and help them prepare.
If your firm moves goods from GB to NI, you can sign up here to get free support, advice and training on new processes that take effect on 1 January 2021.
The ability for traders to move goods under Transit arrangements – allowing them to reduce the number of cross-border declarations and suspend the payment of duties – is a key element of the government’s plans.
The NAO report said it will be challenging to deliver some elements of this for the 6.3 million movements of goods that are anticipated under these arrangements.
Targeting the RoRo freight sector moving goods from GB to the EU after 31 December, the government is developing a new GOV.UK web service called ‘Check an HGV is ready to cross the border’.
Hauliers with HGVs over 7.5 tonnes can check and self-declare that they have the correct documentation and permits.
The service will launch in December and a demo version is viewable here.
Meanwhile the government is preparing civil contingency plans to ensure continuity of the supply of critical goods and medicines in the event of disruption to supply chains. The Department for Transport has awarded contracts to provide additional freight capacity for medical supplies.