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Britain heading for Brexit 'customs chaos'

Lizzy Burden
Lorries arriving at Dover  - Gareth Fuller /PA

The head of the Government’s own expert customs panel has warned of looming chaos at ports after the “amateurish” handling of a new IT system.

The Goods Vehicle Movement Service is intended to help goods flow across Britain’s borders and cut queues.

Industry groups said they were only notified about the system in the past fortnight. Unlike France, the UK has still not tested its new customs system.

Peter MacSwiney, chairman of the HMRC-sponsored joint customs consultative committee, said businesses were already re-routing out of Britain to avoid what they expect will be carnage from January, when the UK leaves the single market and customs union.

“The GVMS relies on a flow of data that we don’t have,” he said. “It’s been devised without any thought of how things actually work in the real world. How the hell is the driver going to know what the customs entry is? It’s amateurish.”

An 89-page consultation document circulated by the Government to trade groups and seen by The Daily Telegraph said operators would have a choice of a “prelodgement” model – where trucks carrying goods could file their paperwork electronically away from the port – or temporary storage where there was warehouse space.

A page for detail on the import process and prelodgment model was left blank.

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Mr MacSwiney added that one commercial body that liaises with HMRC on customs had developed an alternative system and presented it to the Border Delivery Group in 2018.

“That system can deliver what HMRC needs but they appear to be unwilling to accept a commercial solution,” he said.

Rod McKenzie, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, described the draft text as “incomprehensible pie-in-the-sky” thinking.

“I could’ve written it three years ago,” he said. “The Cabinet Office is cagey. We can’t get useful information out of them.

“It’s a shambles because they’re hoping there will be a free trade agreement but ‘last minute’ won’t work. There are 10,000 trucks arriving at Dover a day.

“We need to know what the customs procedure will be, that people are capable of inputting the data, that people have been recruited and trained to process the data and that the IT system is built and tested.”

A Government spokesman said it will publish a model for new border operations next month. “We are continuing our preparations for the end of the transition period and the introduction of new border controls, including by providing £84m to grow the customs intermediary sector to encompass EU trade after 2020.

“We are regularly engaging with industry as plans develop, in particular with regard to a new IT system.”