Organised crime groups would “quickly exploit” border problems under a no-deal Brexit, a government watchdog has warned.
The National Audit Office (NAO) said efforts to keep trade flowing smoothly despite the sudden upheaval in rules could encourage criminals to exploit “perceived weaknesses, gaps or inconsistencies.”
The NAO said in a report on UK preparations for Brexit that the government faced fresh challenges fighting the risk of the border becoming vulnerable to fraud, smuggling or other criminal activity.
It warned: “It is impossible to know exactly what would happen at the border in the event of no deal on 31 October.”
It also said one of the biggest risk remained business preparedness for new rules and checks, with firms required to make customs declarations on all imports and exports in a no-deal scenario.
“This represents a significant business change for traders, freight forwarders and hauliers, who may be making declarations for the first time. It also represents a significant challenge for the government to both maintain the flow of trade across the border and enforce compliance,” the report said.
Overall the risks around maintaining a smooth border remain “significant” with just two weeks to go until the UK’s planned departure, according to the watchdog.
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “Preparing the UK border for EU exit with or without a deal is extremely complex and has required a huge amount of work from many Government departments, agencies and third parties such as traders.
“Despite their efforts, significant risks remain which may have consequences for the public and businesses.
“Government will face new challenges in monitoring and responding to any disruption that may ensue following a no-deal exit, and will need to replace temporary measures with sustainable long-term solutions to ensure the border is fit for purpose.”
But a government spokesman said: “We are doing all that is necessary to ensure that, if we do leave without a deal, the transition will be as smooth as possible for people and businesses – which the NAO recognises.
“This includes simplifying import processes, upgrading IT systems, securing additional freight capacity and putting traffic management plans in place around our busiest ports.
“As the NAO says, many of the challenges that we may face if the UK leaves the EU without a deal require businesses and citizens to take action.
“That’s why we are running the largest communications campaign in recent UK history and providing targeted advice to help them get ready for Brexit on 31 October.”