Brexit: UK could struggle with 'huge' border changes as immigration checks to soar by 230%

Spending watchdog warns of pressure on UK border as customs declarations and immigration checks to soar after Brexit

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Saturday 21 October 2017 15:28
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Spending watchdog warns of pressure on UK border as customs declarations and immigration checks to soar after Brexit
Spending watchdog warns of pressure on UK border as customs declarations and immigration checks to soar after Brexit

Border officials could struggle to cope after Brexit as customs declarations are set to soar by 360% and immigration checks will rise by 230%, the spending watchdog has warned.

A new report by the National Audit Office (NAO) cast doubt over readiness at the border for March 2019 - the official EU exit date - due to a reliance on "outdated technology", manual processes, and staffing shortages.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, chair of the influential Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said it was "difficult to see" how the Government could deliver on these "huge changes" in time for the EU withdrawal.

It comes after a senior Home Office official said troops could be placed on the border as a "last resort" if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.

Auditors said the difficulties posed by Brexit would heighten pressure on the border as immigration officials would need to make 230% more decisions a year if the existing regime for travellers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) is extended to European arrivals.

If customs declarations are required for trade between the UK and EU, the total number could soar by 360%, according to the NAO.

Ms Hillier said: "How the UK manages its borders has been a question of significant concern in the Government's approach to Brexit. But this report from the NAO underlines the sheer scale of the task ahead.

"The Government can't even get started on many of these challenges until we have progress on the exit deal.

"Add to that the Home Office's poor track record with projects like e-borders and for all the Government bluster about Brexit it's difficult to see how, practically, it will be able to deliver any of these huge changes in time."

The NAO acknowledged there had been improvements in the way the Government was using data but delivering Brexit already presented a string of challenges.

The report said: "We know that EU exit may bring complex new challenges. The number of decisions that have to be made over whether to permit people and goods to cross the border could increase significantly (potentially 230% and 360% respectively) through the need to make decisions on traffic from the EU.

"It may require bespoke processes for managing the land border with Ireland and the replacement of (or significant changes to) border services currently provided by European member states.

Urging ministers to plan ahead, it added: "Our previous work shows that some changes to border management processes cannot be made without significant lead times and their successful implementation may require action from many parts of government and industry."

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson Ed Davey said the report laid bare the "stark reality" facing Britain's borders after a 4% cut in workforce in recent years.

He added: “What this could mean is gridlock for millions of people returning from their holidays waiting longer for their passports to be checked, and a backlog of lorries entering and leaving the UK. This is not what people voted for."

A Government spokesman said: "We are fully focused on making the UK's exit from the EU, and our new trading relationship with the world, a success.

"We have set out proposals for an ambitious future trade and customs relationship with the EU and we will be setting out proposals for the future immigration system in due course.

"We will of course ensure we have the resources we need to continue to run an effective customs, borders and immigration system in the future."

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