Brexit: Will the borders be ready?

By Chris Morris
Reality Check correspondent, BBC News

Publishedduration15 hours ago

With a month to go until the end of the post-Brexit transition period, there’s still no clarity about exactly how the UK’s borders will operate outside the EU’s economic zone – the single market and the customs union.

The government says “huge advances” have been made in its preparations, but businesses that trade across the border are extremely concerned.

Duncan Buchanan, the policy director of the Road Haulage Association, says he is expecting something “between shocking and a catastrophe”.

And the National Audit Office said recently that, despite progress by government departments, “…it is still likely that widespread disruption will occur from 1 January 2021”, with significant risks relating to Northern Ireland “and trader readiness more generally”.

Deal or no deal

There will be big changes at UK borders, whether or not a post-Brexit trade deal is agreed with the EU in the coming days and weeks.

A trade deal would remove the need for tariffs (or taxes) to be paid on goods crossing borders.

But from 1 January, goods entering the EU from Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales – Northern Ireland is a different category) will face large amounts of new paperwork and checks.

That includes customs declarations, rules of origin checks, product safety certificates, food inspections and more.

media captionConfused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics.

Hauliers will also need to make sure they have the right transportation paperwork before they proceed to border ports.

There is particular focus on what is known as the short straits route between Dover and Calais, and the nearby Channel Tunnel, which taken together handle about four million lorries a year.

And businesses that rely on trade across the border dismiss suggestions that fears of disruption are being overblown.

“This is the biggest imposition of red tape that businesses have had to deal with in 50 years,” says William Bain from the British Retail Consortium.

Phasing in checks

Last summer, the government decided not to seek an extension to the transition period, despite fears of disruption.

But in response to the devastating impact of the Covid crisis on most businesses, it chose to delay by six months the imposition of full controls on goods entering Great Britain from the EU.

There will be checks from 1 January on controlled substances such as alcohol and tobacco, and traders deemed to be a risk will also be asked to fill in customs declarations. But the majority of checks will be delayed until 1 July, a deadline that could in theory be extended.

“I think we will want to monitor it,” the chief executive of HM Revenue and Customs, Jim Harra, told MPs last week. “Hopefully we will not still be in a situation where Covid-19 is consuming as much of people’s attention.”

Access permits for Kent

The government hopes the delay in imposing most import controls will help limit disruption.

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