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Brexit border checks cost taxpayers at least £4.7bn

border controls
border controls

Delays to post-Brexit border controls have needlessly pushed up costs for taxpayers, the public spending watchdog has warned.

The cost of implementing border checks and improving performance has, according to the Government’s own estimates, already come to £4.7bn, the National Audit Office said.

This is despite the fact that the Government is yet to set out when it plans to have a full regime in place, it noted.

It “repeatedly” has needlessly inflated costs by delaying its plans to introduce full import controls, according to a report released on Monday.

Commenting on the report, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, MP Meg Hillier, said: “Delays and changes in direction have caused unnecessary costs to government and businesses. As the PAC often sees across government, this could have been avoided with a clearer vision and better planning.”

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The watchdog said that repeated delays in introducing import controls and difficulties predicting what would be needed resulted in spending on infrastructure and staff that were “ultimately not needed”.

As an example of such wasteful expenditure, it highlighted how the Government procured or built sites at the Dover White Cliffs and Dover Bastion Point for £62m.

It then subsequently decided these sites were unnecessary when adopting a new risk-based system for imports of plants, products from animals and other high-risk food that reduced the volume of goods that needed to be checked.

NAO also noted how Port Health Authorities had recruited 520 staff to undertake checks, with 370 then not being needed.

Meanwhile, HMRC spent £258m on eight temporary border facilities to cope with an expected increase in demand that never materialised between 2020-2021 and 2023-24.

Gareth Davies, who heads the watchdog, said: “The UK leaving the EU created a large-scale change in arrangements for the movement of goods across the border.

“However, more than three years after the end of the transition period, it is still not clear when full controls will be in place.”

The report noted that while the Government strives to have “the world’s most effective border”, its efforts lacked a clear timetable and delivery plan.

Ministers have delayed the implementation of full border controls five times since the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, 2020.

The report also warned that phased controls and losing access to EU alert systems had left Britain at greater risk of disease outbreaks like African swine fever.