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MPs warn IT will not cope with ‘no deal’ Brexit

08/12/17

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee points to failures to upgrade and replace IT systems as a major hazard in approach to UK leaving the EU

A committee of MPs have made clear they do not expect Whitehall departments to have the IT systems in place to deal with a ‘hard Brexit’ when the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.

Parliament from across the riverThe Public Accounts Committee has published its report on the issue, saying that departments are assuming the risks to managing the border will not change, and do not expect to have all new or updated IT systems ready by the date.

As usual it has come down harder with its criticisms than an earlier National Audit Office report on HM Revenue & Customs' preparations, albeit referring to same problems.

The report makes the point that – although the terms of Brexit are yet to be agreed – the current planning of HMRC in particular relies too heavily on the assumption of a transition period. If this is not the case, its Border Planning Group does not expect to have any of the necessary infrastructure or IT systems in place for the deadline.

In addition to this, difficulties in the past – such as those around the abandoned e-Borders programme – have meant that too many border processes still rely on ageing IT systems or are paper-based.

'No risk' assumption

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: "Government preparations for Brexit assume that leaving the EU will present no additional border risks from freight or passengers. It has acted—or rather, not acted—on this basis.

“This approach, in the context of what continues to be huge uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with the EU, might generously be described as cautious. But against the hard deadline of Brexit it is borderline reckless—an over-reliance on wishful thinking that risks immediately exposing the UK to an array of damaging scenarios.

“Last month we reported on the threat of chaos if HMRC’s new customs system is not ready in time for Brexit and there is no viable fall-back option. We were deeply concerned by the lack of progress on this back-up plan. It is now alarming to note such weak contingency planning extends across Government departments.”

Among the committee’s recommendations is that the Border Planning Group accelerates the detailed planning for a ‘no deal’ Brexit, and reports back by June of next year.

Image by McKay Savage, London, CC BY 2.0 through Wikimedia Commons

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