Ministers warned about ‘overall state of readiness’ for end of Brexit transition

Lorries queue to enter The Port of Dover in Kent as the clock ticks down on the chance for the UK to

Lorries queue to enter The Port of Dover in Kent as the clock ticks down on the chance for the UK to strike a deal before the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31. - Credit: PA

Ministers have been warned of a series of concerns about the “overall state of readiness” for the end of the Brexit transition period in less than a fortnight.

Decisions have been made “too late”, communications with businesses have been “patchy at best” and police may be forced to use “slower and more cumbersome” systems, the Commons Brexit Committee said.

The MPs issued the warning in a report published on Saturday as both Downing Street and Brussels maintained it will be difficult to get a trade deal in place for December 31.

Committee chair Hilary Benn said the government “still cannot provide business, traders and citizens with certainty about what will happen in all the areas affected by the negotiations”.

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“With just seven working days until the end of the transition period, significant concerns remain,” the Labour MP said.

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“At this late stage, the government must be ready to implement contingency plans where necessary to mitigate the effects of any disruption. Failure to do so would mean the worst possible start to the new year for many people and businesses who are already experiencing the toughest of times.”

The cross-party committee said the results of the government’s attempts to communicate the incoming changes “appear patchy at best” and they warned that the combination of Brexit uncertainty and Covid-19 could hamper UK businesses.

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Provisions to ensure the UK border is “secure and safe” must be put in place while ministers must carefully monitor the effectiveness of alternative means of intelligence sharing for law enforcement.

“The fallback systems for exchanging data are slower and more cumbersome,” the MPs wrote.

They warned that a EU-UK surrender agreement to replace the European Arrest Warrant is “unlikely” to be ready in time.

The MPs welcomed that there had been an agreement on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol but called on Westminster to work with the devolved governments to “minimise traffic disruption” near British ports.

They raised concerns that key infrastructure decisions have been made “too late” and that the “late delivery” of IT systems for customs makes training and testing difficult.

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And they warned trade with the EU may be hindered if sufficient numbers of customs and veterinary staff to perform checks and give advice are not in place.

“We are also concerned about the overall state of readiness. It is important that the government engages fully with the devolved governments and has robust contingency plans to deal with whatever happens after January 1,” the MPs concluded.

Best for Britain chief executive Naomi Smith said: "On every level, from issues of basic communication, to matters of national security, this government is taking a wrecking ball to Britain.

"This cross-party report makes it clear that Boris Johnson and his ministers are guilty not only of incompetence, but of wilful negligence too. Business leaders, health experts and security advisers have been warning the government for months that the country is gravely under-prepared to cope with a no-deal Brexit – a situation now compounded by winter, economic woes and a worsening level of Covid infection. 

"Britain desperately needs a deal with the EU."

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