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Government Spends Billions on Border and Custom Controls Still Incomplete Three Years After Brexit

No final date has been set for when ‘the most effective border in the world’ will be fully operational, according to a new report by the National Audit Office

Photo: PA/Alamy

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The Government has spent £4.7 billion on border and customs controls which are still incomplete more than three years after the UK left the European Union, the National Audit Office has found.

Four years ago, four ministers – Michael Gove, George Eustice, Stephen Barclay, and Priti Patel – promised in a white paper “to create the most effective border in the world, a border that is highly productive, free flowing, predictable and resilient for all users”.

Since then, two of the four – Eustace and Patel – have left the government, with the remaining pair having moved to new jobs under Rishi Sunak. During this time, on five occasions, the Government postponed implementing the new provision for import checks from the EU and only introduced partial checks covering plants and animals on 30 April this year. 

No final date has been set for when “the most effective border in the world” will be fully operational.

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The report by the National Audit Office, published yesterday, reveals that £258 million was wasted providing eight temporary border facilities which were never used because the volume of trade never materialised and checks were reduced to a minimum.

The Government procured or built sites at Dover White Cliffs and Dover Bastion Point at a combined cost of £62 million, but subsequently decided they were not required when it adopted  a new risk-based import control regime.

Similarly, Port Health Authorities recruited approximately 520 members of staff to undertake risk based checks, 370 of which were subsequently not required.

The reason appears to be that traders decided themselves to make fewer larger declarations and HM Revenue and Customs had overestimated the level of trade between the EU and the UK.

The Government still estimates that it will cost traders an extra £469 million a year to cope with the bureaucracy, adding to the cost of Brexit.

Gareth Davies, head of the National Audit Office said: The UK leaving the EU created a large-scale change in arrangements for the movement of goods across the border. However, more than three years after the end of the transition period, it is still not clear when full controls will be in place.

“The border strategy has ambitious plans to use technology and data to facilitate trade while managing risks. To achieve its objectives, government requires strong delivery and accountability – including a more realistic approach to digital transformation – together with effective monitoring to enable future improvements.”


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The report also reveals that it will cost more than £500 million to introduce customs checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, where there is no border. This scheme, as well as goods coming into the UK, relies on new digital technology which the NAO says has fallen behind schedule and has had to be replanned.

The four ministers promised regular reports on the progress of the new controls, but none have been published and the earliest report is expected next year.

A Government spokesperson said: “Our borders strategy introduces essential, risk-based checks to protect the UK from potentially devastating pests and diseases – and we are making good progress, having successfully rolled out new checks in January and April this year while taking a pragmatic approach which minimises disruption.

“To support traders, we are also launching the Single Trade Window, a single secure gateway, which will make it easier for traders to provide information to Government when importing goods.”

It still cannot provide a date when the scheme will be fully implemented, despite being asked by Byline Times.

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