The National Audit Office (NAO) has said new IT systems at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are not yet ready to handle the demands of Brexit.
In its new report on the department’s preparations for the UK leaving the EU next March, the auditor says it has not yet ensured the systems can meet the future operational capability outlined in its business cases for chemical regulations and import controls on animal products.
The report says that, while Defra has been focused on getting a functioning system in place for a potential exit without a deal with the EU, this has created a risk that the solutions may not be able to deliver the enhanced capability.
As a result, the basic design and build may need a significant reworking.
One of the main workstreams involves developing a replacement for the EU’s Research, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) system. The report says Defra has not yet started to consider in detail what the future regulatory function will look like or how it has been managed.
It gives the £32.8 million stream a red ranking in its assessment on progress.
Another IT development is needed to replace the EU’s Trade and Control Expert System (TRACES) for imports of animals and animal products. Defra’s current approach focuses on data processing and the development of screens, and there is a risk this will restrict the development of functionality in the long term.
There is also a risk that border inspection posts will need to enter data manually into their databases, increasing delays and raising the chances of error.
Similarly, the existing spreadsheet based system for export health certificates for animals is not expected to handle the increase in volume from a no-deal Brexit, and Defra did not make a decision on how to improve the arrangements until July.
These are part of a broader view conveying concerns that the department will not be able to meet all the demands of leaving without a deal on schedule – even thought it acknowledges that significant progress has been made in some areas.
Head of the NAO Amyas Morse (pictured) said: “The scale and complexity of what needs to be done to leave the EU is a significant challenge and Defra is impacted more than most. It has achieved a great deal, but gaps remain and with six months to go it won’t deliver all it originally intended in the event of no deal, and when gaps exist, it needs to focus on alternatives and mitigations.
“Like other departments, it now must ensure its voice is heard by the centre of government to provide an accurate picture of what is possible if a negotiated settlement is not reached, and even if it is.”