The transition period ended on 31 December 2020. Since that date, trade volumes have been suppressed by the impact of COVID-19, EU exit, and wider global pressures. It may not be possible to separate out the impact of these individual elements on the UK’s trade with the EU, but it is clear that EU exit has had an impact, and that new border arrangements have added costs to business. We have repeatedly raised concerns about the impact of changes to trading arrangements on businesses of all sizes and we remain concerned.
Cross border passenger volumes have been a fraction of normal levels since the end of the transition period because of COVID-19 but they may increase from these low levels considerably during 2022. There is potential for disruption at the border, when passenger volumes return to more normal levels and when further checks at ports are introduced as a result of the EU’s planned introduction of its new Entry and Exit system. This is particularly the case at the juxtaposed controls such as at Dover, where EU officials carry out border checks on the UK side of the border. Departments should be doing all they can to mitigate this risk and, more generally, factoring increases in passenger and trade volumes into their planning.
The EU introduced full import controls at the end of the transition period. The UK government originally intended to do the same but has since delayed this three times and officials could not give us complete assurance that it would not do so again. However, departments were very confident about their ability to introduce import controls over the course of 2022. We hope that this confidence proves justified. There remains much to be done to introduce import controls, and in particular to ensure that traders and hauliers across the 27 EU member states are ready as the controls are phased in. As they implement these controls, departments need to seek a balance between supporting and educating traders and others about their new responsibilities, and ensuring compliance with the new regime.
The government has ambitious plans to create “the most effective border in the world” by 2025, which includes plans to make it easier and simpler for traders to submit information on goods crossing the border. While this is a noteworthy ambition, it is optimistic, given where things stand today and we are not convinced that it is underpinned by a detailed plan to deliver it. In our view, there is much more work that departments should be doing in the shorter term to understand and minimise the current burden on those trading with the EU, to address the immediate delivery and readiness risks in introducing import controls, and to have a border in place which is operating effectively without further delays or temporary measures.