Failing to plan for new IT systems could leave the UK border vulnerable after Brexit, due to the Government's ‘reckless' approach, the MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have warned.
The Committee said that the Government is assuming that risks to managing the border will not change immediately when the UK leaves the EU in 2019, and have not planned to deploy new physical infrastructure like customs posts over the next 15 months.
Officials are too reliant on the possibility of a transition period, said the PAC, and have no backup plan in the case of a ‘no-deal' Brexit.
Of the 85 IT systems currently used at the border, around 30 will need to be replaced or updated in some way - including five entirely new systems and three replacements, plus systems currently provided by the European Union.
Meg Hillier, the Labour chair of the PAC, said: "Government preparations for Brexit assume that leaving the EU will present no additional border risks from freight or passengers. It has acted - or rather, not acted - on this basis.
"This approach, in the context of what continues to be huge uncertainty about the UK's future relationship with the EU, might generously be described as cautious.
"But against the hard deadline of Brexit it is borderline reckless - an over-reliance on wishful thinking that risks immediately exposing the UK to an array of damaging scenarios."
"The committee remains deeply concerned over the ‘threat of chaos' if HMRC's new customs system is not ready in time for Brexit, as customs declarations are set to rise fivefold to 255m a year."
HMRC has said that its new Customs Declaration System will be online by January 2019. However, it is still negotiating with the Treasury to secure £7.3 million (of the £250 million made available to all departments) to upgrade its CHIEF IT system as a contingency option.
Many UK border processes still rely on legacy IT or even hard copy, due to difficulties in implementing previous improvement plans.
For example, the e-Borders system was intended to collect and store details on passengers and crew crossing the UK border and was launched in 2003, but was terminated 12 years later after failing to achieve its goals. The Government was forced to pay £150 million in a settlement fee.
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