A National Audit Office report on The UK border: preparedness for the end of transition

Last week the National Audit Office (NAO) treated us to another report on the levels of preparedness at the UK border ahead of the end of the transition period.  Since the UK’s decision to leave the EU in 2016, the National Audit Office has reported four times on the management of the UK border, focusing primarily on the government’s preparedness for exiting the EU without a deal.

The report last week is pretty substantial, which we would expect with just 53 days to go until the end of the transition period. With the looming implementation of new rules for many businesses, the report acknowledges efforts made by Government departments since the last review.  Departments have set out their plans for the border at the end of transition period and in some cases have also done their own assessment of how prepared they are. The report from the NAO also highlights the significant risks to the effective functioning of the border from 1 January 2021.

The positives in preparedness

With the UK having left the EU, there will be significant change at the UK border from 1 January 2021. Despite obvious challenges facing all areas of Government right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, the report praises the fact Departments have built on their no-deal planning and have made progress in recent months implementing the changes required to systems, infrastructure and resources.

The missing issues

One of the biggest outstanding issues with preparedness of the UK border, according to the latest NAO report, is the absence of a Northern Ireland Border Operating model. There are still no real arrangements on how the Northern Ireland Protocol will be implemented and this poses a significant risk to business preparedness.

So, will businesses or the border be ready?

That is very unlikely according to the NAO report. Traders, industry and third parties all have a role to play in preparing 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.

Additionally, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are not going anywhere and there is potential for further disruption as resources are strained and businesses find themselves trying to deal with the double whammy impacts of COVID-19 and Brexit.

Why so much uncertainty?

There is still a significant amount of uncertainty. The NAO report acknowledges that this is two-fold, first, whether or not preparations will be complete and second, what the impact will be on businesses if the border is not ready on 1 January 2021.

The NAO do not hold back in their conclusion that some of this uncertainty could have been avoided, and better preparations made, if the government had addressed some of these issues sooner.

What can ADS members do?

As always, we encourage ADS members to head to our Brexit Hub and Risk Register. We are keeping a close eye on negotiations as they develop and continue to engage with Government on ways they can best help businesses prepare for the end of the transition period.