Britain‘s customs system needs extra funding to prepare for an expected five-fold increase in work after Brexit, a group of MPs said on Tuesday, warning that failure to adapt in time would be “catastrophic”.
“Much remains to be done to have an effective Customs Declaration Service (CDS) in place, on time, and that traders know how to use,” MPs from the House of Commons public accounts committee said in a report.
The parliamentarians estimated that the number of declarations that customs must process each year could increase from 55 million to 255 million.
Not adapting in time could mean queues at the port in Dover, food being left to rot in trucks at the border and huge disruption for businesses, it warned.
“Failure to have a viable customs system in place before the UK’s planned exit from the EU would wreak havoc for UK business, trade and our international reputation,” said Meg Hillier, an MP from the main opposition Labour party who chairs the committee.
“Confidence would collapse amid the potentially catastrophic effects,” she said, adding that customs should be “banging on the doors of the Treasury” for funding to upgrade the current system.
The report also said there should be a contingency plan in place in case the customs system is not ready before Britain’s expected departure in March 2019.
“The Treasury needs to ensure there is funding in place to develop contingency options so that there are no barriers to continuity of service,” it said.
But Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said the customs service was “on track” to be ready in time.
“We are clear that the declaration service is on track for delivery by January 2019 and that it has the capacity to deal with a significant increase in customs declarations at the border,” he said.