Traffic at UK borders will suffer ‘significant’ disruption from New Year’s Day as the Brexit transition period ends, a bombshell report warns today.
Government spending watchdogs said there could be queues of up to 7,000 lorries waiting to cross the Channel from Dover.
Passenger traffic for Dover ferries and the Channel Tunnel could also suffer delays of up to two hours during January, with waiting times potentially worsening during 2021.
The National Audit Office said that although the Government had made progress updating customs systems and other infrastructure it still expected ‘widespread disruption’.
Heavy goods vehicles queue along the M20 motorway on September 24, 2020 near Ashford. Passenger traffic for Dover ferries and the Channel Tunnel could also suffer delays of up to two hours during January
It made clear the delays would not be a one-off at the start of the new year, but would remain a continuing problem.
The watchdog revealed that the Government is even making contingency plans which could involve ‘waiving’ checks on cargo and using ‘manual processes’ to deal with paperwork.
Auditors said the confusion could be exploited by criminals and smugglers, as well as reducing tax and duty income.
The report said a free trade deal with Brussels could reduce the problems it outlined ‘but will not remove them’.
The National Audit Office said that although the Government had made progress updating customs systems and other infrastructure it still expected ‘widespread disruption’ (file image)
It came as the Road Haulage Association mocked the Government’s preparations as a ‘shambles from beginning to end’.
Rod McKenzie, the organisation’s policy director, said a No Deal Brexit could mean hauliers will be forced to rely on international road haulage permits, known as ECMT permits.
But the UK is allowed only 4,000, despite more than 40,000 being required. He said: ‘The information we have is incomplete, inadequate and quite often totally incomprehensible.’
In a separate development, the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee said trade disruption was expected to knock 1 per cent off GDP in the first quarter of next year. There was ‘considerable uncertainty’ around the impact of Britain’s new trading relationship with the continent, and over how long disruption will last, it said.
The NAO report said there were ‘significant risks’ ahead, despite ministers injecting £1.41billion into the plans.
‘Timetables are tight’ over introducing measures to deal with an estimated 6.3million movements of goods a year, it added. Some computer systems still need a complete overhaul to cope.
The report raised particular concerns over implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which allows Ulster to continue following certain EU trade rules to avoid a hard border with the Republic. ‘Due to the scale and complexity of the changes… there is a very high risk it may not be implemented in time,’ it said.
Meg Hillier, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said: ‘This NAO report is clear that whatever happens, there will be disruption at the border in January.’
÷ EU negotiator Michel Barnier has claimed Boris Johnson wants to broker a last-minute trade deal by bargaining with fellow leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel. He told MEPs: ‘That’s not going to happen.’ British officials dismissed his comments as ‘noise’.