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UK plagued by post-Brexit customs uncertainty: Report

LONDON (AFP) – Britain’s post-Brexit border with the European Union (EU) has been plagued by chronic delays and uncertainty, ramping up costs for businesses and the government, the nation’s spending watchdog said yesterday.

The United Kingdom (UK) departed from the EU in January 2021 following a standstill transition period but has still yet to complete full implementation of post-Brexit customs controls.

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

When the UK left the European single market and customs union on January 1, 2021, the EU immediately implemented customs controls for goods heading from the UK into the bloc.

But the UK government has delayed the introduction of customs checks five times for goods heading into the country, citing delays with infrastructure and technology.

Controls on imports of food, plant and animal products from the EU, have now belatedly begun but not in their entirety.

PHOTO: ENVATO

UK businesses have complained that the lack of checks on EU imports put their continental competitors at an advantage and that they are having to pass on higher administration costs to customers.

“Government has repeatedly changed and deferred its plans for the introduction of full import controls following the UK’s exit from the European Union,” the NAO report added yesterday.

“This has caused uncertainty for businesses and extra costs for government and ports.”

The NAO also slammed the UK government for having “no clear timetable” for finalising full controls.

ADMINISTRATIVE BURDENS

“Since the UK left the EU, border processes have operated largely as intended, but traders face increasing additional costs and administrative burdens,” it said. “Government intends to introduce most of the remaining import controls during 2024 but it is still not clear when full controls will be in place.”

Britain will have spent at least GBP 4.7 billion to implement new border arrangements and improve the border – of which USD2.6 billion had been spent by March 2023 – yet still has no plan for a “full” customs regime, according to the watchdog.

“The repeated delays in introducing import controls, and difficulties forecasting requirements, have resulted in government expenditure on infrastructure and staff that were ultimately not needed,” it added.

“Late announcements about policy and uncertainty about the implementation of controls have also reduced the ability of businesses and ports to prepare for changes.”

However, a government spokesperson said that “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,” added the spokesperson.

Britain voted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum after Brexiteers, including former prime minister Boris Johnson, promised “sunlit uplands” of economic prosperity.

Last year, the UK Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that the Brexit trade deal with Brussels would reduce long-term productivity by four per cent compared to when the country was a member.

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