'Serious concerns' over Brexit border preparations

LaToya Harding
·3 min read
London Brexit
Lord Agnew said that too few companies were ready for the extra paperwork necessary when Britain leaves the EU transition period. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

MPs have voiced concern that a last-minute Brexit deal will leave British businesses unprepared.

The Treasury Select Committee has written to Rishi Sunak warning that there were a “significant number of outstanding questions and issues” after it took evidence from Lord Agnew, a minister of state working on Brexit preparedness at the Treasury and HMRC.

Last week, Lord Agnew said that companies that trade with the EU have their “head in the sand” over Brexit due to fatigue from past Brexit deadlines, COVID-19, and a recession in the UK.

He added that too few companies were ready for the extra paperwork necessary when Britain leaves the EU transition period.

Mel Stride, chair of the Treasury committee, said the group came away from its evidence session with Lord Agnew with “serious concerns about the UK’s customs preparedness for the end of the Brexit transition period.”

“As the Brexit transition period ends and new arrangements with the EU begin to come into force in just 71 days, I’ve asked the chancellor to respond to our concerns as a matter of urgency,” he said.

The cross-party group of MPs cautioned that delays to setting up computer systems, to allow firms to process new customs requirements, will curtail businesses.

READ MORE: Deal or no deal, Brexit will have 'material' impact on trade

The letter to the chancellor said that the committee is “extremely concerned that the IT may not be ready in time to allow companies to prepare sufficiently,” given that testing and changes are still being made now.

It added: “The Committee shares Lord Agnew’s concerns that the Northern Ireland Border Operating Model is yet to be published. Without it, it is impossible for firms trading between Northern Ireland and Great Britain to know how to prepare for the changes that will come on 1 January.”

Britain is set to leave the EU transition period on 1 January 2021, however, both sides are still negotiating a potential trade deal. Firms will face extra paperwork regardless of whether the UK leaves with or without a deal.

Around a quarter of a million companies that trade with the EU must sign up for an EORI number — an Economic Operators Registration and Identification number, which is required for all customs declarations.

READ MORE: Foreign investment into the UK could fall by 37% post-Brexit

It comes as the government launched an app this week that allows traders to check if they are prepared to continue trading with the EU post-Brexit. The app, which is available to just a select number of traders, will be rolled out more widely in the coming weeks.

After a week-long standoff, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier resumed talks on Friday after arriving in the UK last night. He is expected to continue negotiations with his UK counterpart Lord Frost as the pending deadline looms.

Barnier said both sides have a “common responsibility” to reach an agreement. “Every day counts,” he said.

Watch: What happens if not Brexit trade deal is struck?