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Food ‘will rot in trucks at Dover’ if government fails to introduce post-Brexit customs system by 2019, warns Commons report

PUBLISHED: 10:23 14 November 2017 | UPDATED: 13:13 14 November 2017

Port of Dover

Port of Dover

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The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said HMRC does not yet have the funding to increase capacity of Customs Declaration Service

Failure to complete the introduction of a new customs system by the date of Brexit in 2019 would be “catastrophic”, with the risk of huge disruption for businesses, massive queues at Dover and food being left to rot in trucks at the border, a parliamentary report has warned.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said the number of customs declarations which HM Revenue and Customs must process each year could increase almost five-fold after the UK’s departure from the European Union - from 55 million to 255 million.

But HMRC does not yet have the funding to increase the capacity of its new Customs Declaration Service to deal with the consequences of Brexit, said the committee.

Its report warns that “much remains to be done” to have an effective CDS system in place on time and urged the Treasury to ensure that funding is in place to develop contingency plans to avoid gaps in the service.

It would be “catastrophic” if CDS is “not ready in time and if there is no viable fall-back option”, the cross-party committee concluded.

The warning comes a month after Dover MP Charlie Elphicke held a panel discussion in the House of Commons, where industry chiefs accused the government of not providing enough direction or certainty.

Tony Smith, a former Border Force director general, admitted he wasn’t sure the full processes would be in place in time for March 2019, when Britain leaves the EU for good, while another Tory MP claimed progress stalled immediately after the referendum last June because the governmnet was “paralysed by fear and did not know what to do”.

The Port of Dover has repeatedly warned that queues of lorries will stretch back some 17 miles across Kent’s roads if ministers fail to negotiate a deal with Brussels.

Likewise, a report by consultancy firm Oxera claimed that the county could become gridlocked by an “almost-permanent instigation of Operation Stack”.

A government spokesman said in response to the report: “The Customs Declaration Service is on track for delivery by January 2019 and has the capacity to deal with a significant increase in customs declarations at the border.

“We’ve already allocated over half a billion pounds in funding to ensure a successful exit from the EU and we will have a fully functioning UK customs service on day one post-Brexit.

“HMRC will continue to operate the current service (Chief) in tandem with CDS during the transition from one system to the other. This will provide an additional level of contingency, should it be required.”

But Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said the report exposed a “major threat” posed by Brexit to the nation’s ports, businesses and food supply.

“Thousands of businesses risk being left in the lurch because of the extreme Brexit this Government has chosen,” said Mr Brake.

“We were promised £350 million for the NHS; instead, ministers will have to spend millions setting up a new customs system to avoid chaos at our borders.

“As the true cost of Brexit becomes apparent, it’s clear the British people must be given the final say with the choice to stay in the EU.”

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