A powerful committee of MPs said the Government is taking “limited responsibility” for Brexit readiness with just four weeks to go before the end of the transition period.
In a report by the Public Accounts Committee [PAC], MPs say they are “extremely concerned” about the risk of “serious disruption and delay” at the short Channel crossings.
Committee chair Meg Hillier said: “A year after the oven ready deal, we have more of a cold turkey and businesses and consumers do not know what to be prepared for.”
The crossbench group warns that border systems remain in development and plans for managing disruption or prioritisation of key goods are unclear.
Ms Hillier, a former Labour minister, added: “Pretending that things you don’t want to happen are not going to happen is not a recipe for government, it is a recipe for disaster.
“We’re paying for that approach in the UK’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and can only hope that we are not now facing another catastrophe, at the border in four weeks’ time.”
PAC also says the coronavirus pandemic has shown gaps in planning and ministers spend too much money on consultants for work that can be done by civil servants.
It comes after spending watchdog the National Audit Office [NAO] said that UK trade with the EU faces “significant disruption” when the transition period ends on December 31.
NAO also said it was “very unlikely” traders would be ready for checks the EU is due to impose at its borders.
A trade deal has still not been finalised with the EU with major sticking points remaining over fish and the level playing field.
Since the 2016 vote, preparation costs have reached £4.4billion and involved 22,000 civil servants.
Meanwhile the summer 2019 ‘Get ready for Brexit’ campaign cost £46 million before it was abandoned when an extension was agreed.
Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Alok Sharma this week announced a 24/7 Border Operations Centre to monitor the UK border in real-time.
A Government press release urged businesses to prepare, but admitted: “Changes to the way we trade with Europe will likely mean that there is short term disruption at the border.”
In response to today’s PAC report, a UK Government spokesperson said: “We are making significant preparations to prepare for the guaranteed changes at the end of the transition period including investing £705 million in jobs, technology and infrastructure at the border and providing £84 million in grants to boost the customs intermediaries sector. This is alongside implementing border controls in stages so traders have more time to prepare.
“With less than one month to go, it’s vital that businesses and citizens make their final preparations too. That’s why we’re intensifying our engagement with businesses through the Brexit Business Taskforce and running a major public information campaign so they know exactly what they need to do to get ready.”