The Public Accounts Committee has warned of chaos and catastrophe if a new customs system is not in place when the UK leaves the European single market and the customs union in March 2019.
A failed customs system could “lead to huge disruption for businesses, with delays potentially causing massive queues at Dover and resulting in food being left to rot in trucks at the border”, the committee warned in a new report.
Mike Coupe, Sainsbury’s chief executive, raised similar concerns in September. Coupe explained that anything that encumbers the food supply chain adds cost and has a detrimental effect on freshness. "If you're shipping fresh produce from a long distance, even a few hours of delay can make a material impact."
Potential disruption to food supply are “not fully recognised” in Westminster he added, in an interview with the Press Association.
In 2015, around 55 million customs declarations were made by 141,000 traders. The UK's exit from the EU could see the number of customs declarations HMRC has to process each year increase five-fold to 255 million.
The group of MPs found that little had been done so far due the uncertainty regarding the outcome of the UK-EU negotiations. However, this shouldn’t be an excuse for inaction, they said.
The new customs declarations service must be scaled up to handle the increase in declarations and there should be a contingency plan in place by January 2019, the said. HMRC also has “a lot more work to do” with the many businesses affected.
"Failure to have a viable customs system in place before the UK's planned exit from the EU would wreak havoc for UK business, trade and our international reputation,” explained committee chair Meg Hillier. “Confidence would collapse amid the potentially catastrophic effects.”