Preparing for the end of the Transition Period Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.We note the work the Government has done to develop the Border Operating Model and the steps it has taken to build some of the physical infrastructure needed for the Border Operating Model to work. This has been a complex undertaking requiring careful coordination and collaboration across departments and with local government, the devolved administrations, businesses and traders, and the logistics sector. The new infrastructure and accompanying traffic management plans are needed from 1 January 2021 whether there is an agreement on the UK’s future relationship with the EU or not. We are concerned that some decisions on infrastructure have been taken too late, such as where the inland facilities for Holyhead and Cairnryan will be located and decisions on bids to the Port Infrastructure Fund to enable ports to carry out the necessary building work. We are also concerned about the overall state of readiness. It is important that the Government engages fully with the devolved governments and has robust contingency plans to deal with whatever happens after 1 January. We welcome the European Commission’s proposals on 10 December 2020, in the event of no deal, for temporary rules on road freight and road passenger transport provided the UK reciprocates, and we urge the UK Government to do so. (Paragraph 18)

2.Complex, large IT systems are always difficult to deliver, and getting Government IT systems ready for the end of the transition period was always going to be challenging. The need to develop some new systems has complicated matters. The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland creates additional complexity; for example, it will require the use of the new Customs Declaration Service because it can handle two different tariff codes for the same product. We note that there is a reasonably high level of confidence that the changes the Government needed to make will be made on time, but we are concerned that some of these changes are coming so close to the end of the transition period that business and traders will not have had enough time to update their own in-house systems. They work with more than just the UK Government’s systems; they must be trained on and work with IT systems at ports and with those of the countries they are exporting to or importing from. We are aware that it will take time to train users on both the Government systems and changes to any in-house systems; this training is vital if the whole system for moving goods is to work. Late delivery of IT systems makes it difficult for this to take place before the end of the transition period. We are also concerned that there has not been enough time to test how well all the systems work together. The Government should have a plan in place now so that it can act early in the New Year to deal with any problems. We will watch to see how the situation develops in the first few weeks of January. (Paragraph 26)

3.The Government was right to phase in import procedures on goods arriving from the EU and, given our earlier recommendation on the UK reciprocating on the European Commission’s proposed no deal contingency measures on road freight and road passenger transport, we urge the EU to reciprocate on the phasing in of import procedures on goods in order to give businesses more time to adapt to the outcome of the very late running negotiations. Nevertheless, full implementation is now only a few months away and, as the last year has proved, new and unexpected challenges may well emerge. The Government must ensure that necessary systems and infrastructure are in place, and businesses are informed of the changes they must make, as soon as possible to ensure that the extra time is not wasted. (Paragraph 33)

4.Effective operation of the new Border Operating Model depends on more than IT systems and physical infrastructure. It needs people. Outside the Single Market and Customs Union, businesses and traders will be reliant on customs intermediaries to help them get their paperwork right. It will be impossible to comply with the requirements on plant and animal health, and food and feed safety without the vets and other professionals who are needed to carry out checks and certify goods. We are very concerned that any delays that arise because we have not got the right people in the right place at the right time will make it harder for UK businesses to trade with our European neighbours. The Government must stand ready to address any shortages in personnel that cause delays once the transition period has ended, i.e. in just over two weeks’ time. (Paragraph 38)

5.While we welcome the Government’s attempts to communicate to businesses the changes that will take place on 1 January, results appear patchy at best. Little time now remains and, in making their preparations, businesses continue to be held back by restrictions imposed to control the spread of Covid-19, a lack of detailed guidance and continued uncertainty over the final terms of the UK-EU future relationship. (Paragraph 48)

6.Cooperation on law enforcement and policing is an important part of the UK’s future relationship with the EU and the loss of access to certain databases and sources of information that we have made great use of is a cause of concern. While it remains to be seen how close any agreement will be, there will need to be provisions in place on day one to ensure that the UK border is secure and safe. The Government, police, and agencies, such as the National Crime Agency, have clearly anticipated what tools they are unlikely to have at their disposal after the end of the transition period and designed alternatives where possible but it is not clear if those alternatives will be in place on 1 January 2021. For example, it is unlikely that there will be an EU-UK Surrender Agreement ready to replace the European Arrest Warrant and it is not certain that there will be a data adequacy decision for law enforcement purposes in place. The fall-back systems for exchanging data are slower and more cumbersome. The Government needs to monitor carefully the time it takes for the alternatives to bed in and prove their effectiveness. (Paragraph 58)

7.The UK has a 300-mile land border with an EU member state on the island of Ireland. The Police Service of Northern Ireland and An Garda Siochána have developed ways of sharing information and intelligence which is important for countering cross-border crime. The UK must explore all possibilities available, including the possibility of bilateral arrangements, in order that law enforcement agencies in Northern Ireland and Ireland can continue to cooperate in this way on 1 January 2021. (Paragraph 59)

8.We welcome that formal agreement has been reached in the Joint Committee on how the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol will work in practice. We urge HMRC to intensify its working relations with the Irish Revenue Commissioners and other relevant authorities to ensure consistency in application of the agreed processes and avoid further disputes in future on their interpretation. The new arrangements will affect GB businesses and hauliers involved in moving goods, particularly agrifoods, to Northern Ireland, as well as the ports of Holyhead in Wales and Cairnryan in Scotland. The UK Government should work closely with the Devolved Governments and put contingencies in place to minimise traffic disruption near to the sites of the affected GB ports. (Paragraph 73)

9.It has been disappointing that the Joint Committee’s decisions have been so long delayed; the citizens of Northern Ireland deserved to know far sooner the terms of trade within their own country. Even with the pragmatic solution the UK and EU have reached, the early months of the Protocol are likely to be difficult. Some challenges have been avoided and some postponed for a few months, but not all, and very little time remains for Northern Irish businesses and civil servants to meet them. To make things work will require continuing flexibility, creativity and generosity of spirit from all parties over the coming months and years. (Paragraph 74)

Published: 19 December 2020 Site information    Accessibility statement