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Britain plagued by customs uncertainty after Brexit: report

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

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

“Britain’s departure from the EU brought about a wholesale change in the arrangements for the movement of goods across the border,” Gareth Davies, boss of the National Audit Office (NAO), said 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 checks will take place.”

When Britain left the European Single Market and Customs Union on January 1, 2021, the EU immediately introduced customs checks on goods entering the bloc from Britain.

But the British government has delayed the introduction of customs checks on goods entering the country five times, citing delays with infrastructure and technology.

Controls on imports of food, plant and animal products from the EU have now started late, but not yet in full.

PHOTO: ENVATO

British companies have complained that the lack of checks on EU imports favors their continental competitors and forces them to pass on higher administration costs to customers.

“The government has repeatedly changed and postponed its plans to introduce full import controls following Britain’s departure from the European Union,” the NAO report added yesterday.

“This creates uncertainty for businesses and additional costs for government and ports.”

The NAO also criticized the British government for having “no clear timetable” for completing the full checks.

ADMINISTRATIVE EXPENSES

“Since the UK left the EU, border processes have largely run as intended, but traders are facing increasing additional costs and administrative burdens,” the report said. “The government plans to introduce most remaining import controls in 2024, but it is still unclear when full controls will take place.”

Britain will have spent at least £4.7 billion to implement new border arrangements and improve the border – of which $2.6 billion had been spent by March 2023 – but still has no plan for a ‘full’ customs regime.

“Repeated delays in introducing import controls and difficulties in predicting requirements have resulted in government spending on infrastructure and personnel that was ultimately unnecessary,” it added.

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

However, a government spokesperson said that “we are making good progress, having successfully introduced new controls in January and April this year, while taking a pragmatic approach that minimizes 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 the government when importing goods,” the spokesperson added.

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

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