Yves here. Richard Murphy read, and more important, translated the NAO report so you don’t have to! And you can see why May is angling for a longer transition period. It appears to have finally dawned on the less bloodthirsty Tories that no way, no how will the UK have a trade deal with the EU at the end of 2020 unless the EU dictates terms (and even then that’s not a given). So the UK is faced with a crash out with the EU with respect to trade then even with the current outlines of a deal, and all the border requirements that go with it.
And as we flagged some time ago, the UK’s custom system upgrade, which is due to be completed January 2019 (and the Government’s record of completing IT projects on time is poor), won’t be able to handle remotely enough daily transactions to handle EU goods with the UK no longer in the Single Market. No one even discussed whether it would be possible to get the border systems in shape by the end of 2020, which suggested that the experts saw it as so implausible as to not be worth mentioning.
Another issue is that the few official documents put out by the UK on Brexit have been astonishingly flabby, lots of fuzzy high concept, very little concrete detail. And the Joint Agreement (the punt on the Irish border last December that contained the infamous backstop) had an uncomfortably high amount of aspirational language that didn’t seem clearly related to eventual deal terms. Has this sort of mushy thinking become common in the UK civil service, or is this a verbal protective crouch in response to Brexit?
By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK
The National Audit Office has issued a report today on the UK’s preparedness for border controls as and when Brexit happens (as I think it will, I am afraid).
Their conclusion (with my comments) is as follows:
Effective management of the border is critical for the UK after it leaves the EU.
It’s a pity no one told the Leave campaign, in 2016 or those remnants of it that still exist now.
It is fundamentally important to our national security, economy and international reputation.
Keep reading, and you’ll realise all three are being shredded, right now.
Leaving the EU will trigger some important changes to how the border is managed, but making such changes is not easy. It requires significant effort and the coordination of large numbers of organisations, many parts of government and millions of border users.
It’s a pity no one told the Leave campaign.
If the government reaches a withdrawal agreement with the EU, industry and government will have until December 2020 to design and implement any new arrangements.
That’s mighty wishful thinking.
This could involve significant work, such as the implementation of new customs arrangements, and the time available to meet these challenges is not long compared to many complex government programmes.
In other words, the NAO think it’s nigh on impossible.
However, the scale of this change will be nowhere near that required if the UK and the EU cannot reach an agreement.
Someone smiled when they wrote that. And then went outside and did the honourable thing.
If there is no withdrawal agreement, the government has recognised that the border will be ‘less than optimal’.
No, they didn’t: they came back and added that as a footnote.
We agree with this assessment, and it may take some time for a fully functioning border to be put in place.
In other words, we’ll be a nation-state without a functioning border. Which reduces us to something less than a functioning nation state when you think about it, because one of the identifying characteristics of a nation-state is that it has an identifiable border and we won’t have that.
Individuals and businesses will feel the impact of a sub-optimal border to varying degrees.
The master of understatement strikes again.
The government is putting in place coping responses where it can.
For that read ‘but we can’t find where’.
How effective they will be remains to be seen.
Which in civil service speak is as close to saying that this is going to be a disaster and there is no way around it as anyone dares go.
I should add, I agree with this assessment, barring its optimism, which is significantly over-stated.