Post-Brexit cus­toms chaos ‘cat­a­strophic’ for ports, warn MPs

Western Mail - - NEWS - David Wil­liamson Po­lit­i­cal Edi­tor david.wil­liamson@waleson­

THE UK Gov­ern­ment has been urged to take in­stant ac­tion to pre­vent chaos at Welsh ports in the wake of a ma­jor re­port which warns of a “cat­a­strophic” out­come if a new cus­tom sys­tem is not ready by the time of Brexit.

The cross-party Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee warns that the num­ber of cus­toms dec­la­ra­tions made by traders could in­crease from around 55 mil­lion in 2015 to 255 mil­lion af­ter the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.

The MPs say it would be “cat­a­strophic” if HMRC’s new Cus­toms Dec­la­ra­tion Ser­vice (CDS) is not ready and if there is no vi­able fall­back sys­tem.

They fear “huge dis­rup­tion for busi­nesses” with “mas­sive queues” at Dover and “food be­ing left to rot in trucks at the bor­der”.

An­gle­sey Labour MP Al­bert Owen has strong con­cerns about the threat to Welsh ports. He warned of chaos and stressed the need for a cus­toms union with Ire­land – ei­ther a new one or by keep­ing ex­ist­ing ar­range­ments in place.

He said: “I have been rais­ing these is­sues and I think the Gov­ern­ment doesn’t quite un­der­stand the mag­ni­tude of it... [There] needs to be in my opin­ion an cus­toms union with Ire­land... “Be­cause if we don’t have any­thing in place there will be chaos at ports and it puts UK ports at risk.”

Stress­ing the need for the UK Gov­ern­ment to take ac­tion, he said: “It is go­ing to be chaotic and the Gov­ern­ment needs to do some­thing about it in­stantly... The Ir­ish Gov­ern­ment un­der­stands this, and they un­der­stand it from their per­spec­tive and the UK’s per­spec­tive and I think it’s just dogma by the Gov­ern­ment that’s pre­vent­ing them com­ing to a sen­si­ble ar­range­ment.”

The Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee un­der­scores the im­por­tance of get­ting a new sys­tem in place, stat­ing: “This is a pro­gramme of na­tional im­por­tance that could have a huge rep­u­ta­tional im­pact for the UK if it is not de­liv­ered suc­cess­fully.”

It em­pha­sises the need for HMRC to in­crease its ca­pac­ity to cope with 255 mil­lion dec­la­ra­tions and in­sists there must be a “vi­able con­tin­gency op­tion” in place “well be­fore Jan­uary 2019”.

The MPs warn: “This is a tight timetable at the best of times. With the hard dead­line of Brexit, de­lay is not an op­tion. The Trea­sury needs to en­sure there is fund­ing in place to de­velop con­tin­gency op­tions so that there are no bar­ri­ers to con­ti­nu­ity of ser­vice.”

HMRC ex­pects 132,000 traders will have to make cus­toms dec­la­ra­tions for the first time af­ter Brexit.

Islwyn Labour MP Chris Evans, a mem­ber of the Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee, said: “Un­der cur­rent plans we are go­ing to leave the Euro­pean sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union in March 2019... We’re halfway through Novem­ber and it seems re­ally con­cern­ing that we don’t have any­thing in place for the Cus­toms Dec­la­ra­tion Ser­vice. This would put im­mense pres­sure on our ports around Wales... This is go­ing to take a lot of time and I’m re­ally deeply con­cerned that we’re not go­ing to have enough time to do this.”

Warn­ing of “food rot­ting in trucks,” he said the Gov­ern­ment ap­peared to have been “sit­ting on its hands since the ref­er­en­dum”.

This week Plaid Cymru MP Car­marthen East and Dine­fwr MP Jonathan Ed­wards took the op­por­tu­nity to warn Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis of the “dis­as­trous con­se­quences a hard bor­der be­tween Wales and the Repub­lic of Ire­land” would have for the Welsh ports of Holy­head, Fish­guard and Pem­broke Dock.

Mr Davis said: “The Gov­ern­ment pol­icy is to de­liver a fric­tion­less trade ar­range­ment be­tween our­selves and the EU27, most im­por­tantly of all I think [with] the Repub­lic of Ire­land.”

A re­port by Moody’s ear­lier this month warned that Holy­head had “lit­tle or no space avail­able to ac­com­mo­date any de­lays in the move­ment of pas­sen­gers and trucks”. It stressed that Holy­head is “an im­por­tant route for the trans­port of goods, in­clud­ing a sig­nif­i­cant amount of per­ish­ables”.

A UK Gov­ern­ment spokes­woman said: “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.”

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