Serious concerns about 'state of readiness' as Brexit deadline looms

19 December 2020, 00:22

There are widespread concerns about a lack of readiness ahead of the end of the transition
There are widespread concerns about a lack of readiness ahead of the end of the transition. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Ministers have been warned about the "overall state of readiness" for the end of the Brexit transition period in less than a fortnight.

Decisions have been made "too late", communications with businesses have been "patchy at best" and police may be forced to use "slower and more cumbersome" systems, the Commons Brexit Committee said.

The MPs issued the warning in a report published on Saturday as both Downing Street and Brussels maintained it will be difficult to get a trade deal in place for December 31.

Committee chair Hilary Benn said the Government "still cannot provide business, traders and citizens with certainty about what will happen in all the areas affected by the negotiations".

Read more: Barnier: Only 'very narrow' path to post-Brexit trade deal remains

Read more: 'Substantial progress' made but 'big differences remain' as Brexit talks continue

"With just seven working days until the end of the transition period, significant concerns remain," the Labour MP said.

"At this late stage, the Government must be ready to implement contingency plans where necessary to mitigate the effects of any disruption. Failure to do so would mean the worst possible start to the new year for many people and businesses who are already experiencing the toughest of times."

The cross-party committee said the Government's attempts to communicate the incoming changes "appear patchy at best" and warned that the combination of Brexit uncertainty and Covid-19 could hamper UK businesses.

Provisions to ensure the UK border is "secure and safe" must be put in place while ministers must carefully monitor the effectiveness of alternative means of intelligence sharing for law enforcement.

"The fallback systems for exchanging data are slower and more cumbersome," the MPs wrote.

Read more: Big Ben will bong for Brexit on New Year's Eve as part of clock tests

They warned that a EU-UK surrender agreement to replace the European Arrest Warrant is "unlikely" to be ready in time.

The MPs welcomed that there had been an agreement on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol but called on Westminster to work with the devolved governments to "minimise traffic disruption" near British ports.

They raised concerns that key infrastructure decisions have been made "too late" and that the "late delivery" of IT systems for customs makes training and testing difficult.

The group also said trade with the EU may be hindered if sufficient numbers of customs and veterinary staff to perform checks and give advice are not in place.

"We are also concerned about the overall state of readiness. It is important that the Government engages fully with the devolved governments and has robust contingency plans to deal with whatever happens after January 1," the MPs concluded.

Read more: Michael Gove says chance of Brexit deal 'less than 50%'

A UK Government spokeswoman said: "Government is investing £705 million in jobs, technology and infrastructure at the border and providing £84 million in grants to boost the customs intermediaries sector.

"With just a few days to go until the UK's new start on 1 January, it's vital that businesses and citizens make their final preparations now."