Brexit has been four years in the making, but with fewer than four months to go before the UK leaves the EU single market and customs union, the country is still without the tools to be border-ready, it has emerged.

A leaked government document seen by the Guardian shows key IT systems continue to be under development, some legislation is still needed to allow information on passengers and freight to be shared, and plans for a national network of advice centres for trucks is currently unfunded.

Tourist and business passengers will also be affected, says the Border and Protocol Delivery Group, a cross-departmental command tasked with getting the borders Brexit-ready for 1 January.

Passengers

Passengers on Eurostar and at airports could face “significant disruption” at St Pancras station in London if UK nationals are not allowed to use e-gates, the document says. Some may turn up at EU borders without correct paperwork, such as passports valid for at least six months.

Passenger volumes would be lower in January but “there would be a risk of significant disruption during peak travel periods, particularly in April and summer 2021,” says the document.

The revised planning assumption, according to the report, is that checks “will be applied to 100% of all passengers” who carry a British passport as they will now be “third-country nationals” and not eligible for free movement across EU borders.

It is forecasting a worst-case scenario of potential queues of one to two hours in Dover and the Eurotunnel in January. The risk of queues would be greatest at countries that don’t lay on extra resources for British arrivals or who insist on extra red tape such as stamps on passports.

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Freight IT systems not ready

In an ideal scenario, the government is hoping to have a Smart Freight website and ultimately a smartphone app running by 1 January. Drivers or their clients need to use this website to demonstrate to the authorities they have completed electronic paperwork before getting the green light to drive into Kent.

In theory this will prevent congestion in Kent and allow an orderly procession of up to 7,000 trucks a day on to the ferries and Eurotunnel shuttles as normal.

But the software for the site is still under development. The design is still in the alpha stage but if approved it will move to a private beta test for further development. It won’t be ready for public testing until the end of November, according to an infographic in the document, Managing and Mitigating Disruption.

Lorry parks and traffic contingencies

Only one site, in Ashford, has been bought by the government to hold lorries in the event of congestion. The recently acquired Mojo site will hold 2,000 of the expected 7,000 trucks, the document says. Other sites under consideration are Manston airport, which can hold 4,000 lorries, and the Waterbrook site behind the Mojo site which can hold 950 freight units.

Operation Brock will swing into action if there are delays at Dover and Folkestone, with a one-way system allowing vehicle-only lanes southbound at junctions 8 and 9 on the M20. It can control the movements of 2,000 lorries.

National considerations

A border impact centre (BIC) will be built for the end of the transition period on 31 December to help national and local authorities get to grips with controls they need to put in place for border-destined traffic.

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The scale of the challenge facing the government is underlined in an observation that “26 government departments and public authorities have either operational and/or policy responsibilities in relation to the border, using over 100 IT systems between them”. It adds that “currently there are legal, technical and cultural barriers hindering effective information sharing between these organisations” with an amendment in the trade bill to enable data sharing.

Trucks crossing the border will encounter a range of authorities with Home Office requirements on passports and visas for incoming drivers, Department for Transport checks for driver permits, HM Revenue & Customs for potential tariffs and customs declarations, and the Department for the Environment responsible for animal and food safety checks.

Extra complications

The document notes that not all EU requirements are the same. The Netherlands and Belgium require pre-registration on freight arrivals adding to the burden for drivers.

It also notes that all food and plant products need certification while fish products require health plus UK catch certificates. If they don’t have the sanitary certificates, they could be turned back to the point of departure by EU member states.



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