Brexit border checks to cost further £4.7bn

May 20, 2024

The National Audit Office (NAO) has reported that the Government anticipates spending at least £4.7 billion on developing post-Brexit border controls, which have faced numerous delays. Implementing these controls, particularly for checks on EU imports of plant and animal products, encountered severe challenges, including a critical shortage of inspectors and delays in legislation necessary for the new systems.

By March 2023, £2.6bn had already been spent on the 13 key border-related projects. The Cabinet Office, which oversees readiness for the changes, initially gave the physical checks introduced in April "an amber" rating, indicating feasible but significantly problematic implementation. Recruitment issues were highlighted, with the Government conceding that port health authorities would not have all the required staff from the outset.

Additional concerns include IT failures that caused significant border delays, affecting imports and exacerbating business issues. The physical checks on lorries, introduced on 30 April, mirrored EU checks on UK goods post-single market exit. However, a lack of staffing and an agreed approach to compliance and enforcement were identified as major issues earlier in the year.

Five delays have occurred since July 2021, leading to unnecessary infrastructure and staff expenditures. For example, £62 million was spent on two sites near Dover planned as border posts but never used, and £258m on eight temporary facilities now closed. Of the 520 staff recruited between 2020 and 2021, 370 were no longer needed after a 2022 strategy overhaul, with only some reassigned within local authorities.

The NAO criticises the absence of a clear timeline and a cohesive cross-government plan to achieve the "world's most effective border" goal by 2025.

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