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Businesses not prepared for no-deal, says spending watchdog

The National Audit Office (NAO) has today warned that a large number of traders and businesses will not be ready for new customs and regulatory controls enforced under a no-deal Brexit. 

In a report titled “The UK border: preparedness for EU exit October 2019”, Whitehall’s spending regulator said: “In whichever situation the UK leaves the EU there are implications for how the border is managed. The UK’s current management of the border is heavily influenced by its membership of the EU, which allows free movement of goods, services, capital and people across member states.”

The NAO found progress had been made putting in place the systems, infrastructure and resources required to manage the border if there is a no-deal divorce. It cautioned “there is still some work to do to finalise arrangements in the short time that remains and bringing all these elements together for the first time in a live environment carries inherent risk”.

It warned that the most significant risks to the operation of the border remain, namely “business readiness”, EU member states imposing controls, and arrangements for the Northern Ireland and Ireland land border. The NAO said that although the government has actions under way to influence these, mitigating these risks is now, to some extent, out of its control.

It added: “It is impossible to know exactly what would happen at the border in the event of no deal on 31 October 2019. Departments face new challenges in monitoring and responding to any disruption that may ensue. This includes supporting businesses and individuals in meeting their new obligations, mitigating risks of the border becoming vulnerable to fraud, smuggling or other criminal activity, and activating civil contingency plans if necessary.

“Many of the new arrangements the government plans to implement at the border to facilitate flow on day one would be temporary, and it will take some time for a fully functioning border to be put in place. In determining longer‑term arrangements, the government would need to balance enabling the flow of traffic across the border with introducing appropriate controls to minimise the risk of non‑compliance or criminal activity.” 


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