In Brief

Why no-deal Brexit could lead to border security threat

National Audit Office warns that leaving EU without an agreement may leave UK vulnerable to criminals

The UK border may not be adequately protected against the consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit, according to a new paper by the public spending watchdog.

In its report published today, the National Audit Office (NAO) warns that the UK leaving the EU without an agreement will “create security weaknesses which the Government would need to address urgently”. That verdict is in line with the Government’s prior finding that the state of the border would be “less than optimal” in a no-deal scenario.

According to The Guardian, the Government has not defined what “less than optimal” might mean, but the NAO says “this could include delays for goods crossing the border, increased opportunities for tax and regulatory non-compliance and less information to inform checks of people crossing the border”.

The report also suggests that the UK may be subject to a “potential loss of access to EU security”, compounding the issue further.

With just five months to go before the UK’s official departure from the EU, the NAO has recommended replacing critical IT systems, boosting border staff numbers and building new infrastructure to track goods - and says failing to do so could allow “organised criminals and others” to “exploit any perceived weaknesses or gaps in the enforcement regime”.

However, the report also suggests that the UK may have left it too late to prepare its borders for a no-deal Brexit, and that only one of 12 new critical systems is likely to be ready after planning was undermined by “political uncertainty and delays in negotiations”.

The outlooks of other organisations are equally dire. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said the Government was living in “dreamland” if it claimed that a system for tracking and examining goods at the border would be ready by March.

“Every day that passes brings us closer to the sobering realities of a no-deal Brexit that will be damaging and dangerous for our small firms,” said FSB chairman Mike Cherry.

Sir Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Government has openly accepted the border will be sub-optimal if there is no deal with the EU on 29 March 2019.

“It is not clear what sub-optimal means in practice, or how long this will last.

“But what is clear is that businesses and individuals who are reliant on the border running smoothly will pay the price.”

Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said the report “painted a damning picture on the Government’s lack of security preparation for Brexit”, adding: “The British people will never forgive this government if its in-fighting and political jockeying led them to neglect border security and the international co-operation needed to tackle serious, organised crime and terrorism.”

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