The UK is still ill-prepared for the end of the post-Brexit transition period, with or without a new trade deal being agreed, according to a report published on Saturday (19 December) by UK lawmakers.
The report by the UK parliament’s cross-party Future Relationship Committee urges Boris Johnson’s government to have “robust contingency plans” in place to cope with disruption at border and entry points in January and for the UK and EU to reciprocate on no-deal measures and the phasing-in of goods controls.
“At this late stage, the government must be ready to implement contingency plans where necessary to mitigate the effects of any disruption. Failure to do so would mean the worst possible start to the new year for many people and businesses who are already experiencing the toughest of times,” the report stated.
The UK will leave the EU’s single market and customs union when the transition phase ends on 31 December. If ongoing trade talks do not deliver a new trade agreement the two sides will trade on World Trade Organisation terms, with customs and tariffs, from 1 January.
“With just seven working days until the end of the transition period, significant concerns remain,” Committee chair Hilary Benn said.
“The government still cannot provide businesses, traders and citizens with certainty about what will happen in all the areas affected by the negotiations, but as we leave the rules of the Single Market and the Customs Union, firms exporting to the EU will face more red tape, unfamiliar forms and extra costs from 1 January whatever happens,” he added.
The committee also warned that many businesses and traders will not be able to update their own systems that integrate with the UK tax office’s new IT systems, nor will they be fully trained on the new software.
Last week, the European Commission tabled contingency measures to ensure basic reciprocal air and road connectivity between the EU and the UK, and mooted the prospect of temporary reciprocal fishing access by vessels to each other’s waters.
Elsewhere, while the report welcomed the agreement on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, they described themselves as “worried about the consequences of trucks not having the right paperwork, traffic disruption around ports, and the UK’s security being affected by loss of access to EU law enforcement databases.”
“It is also disappointing that an agreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol could not be reached before now and that some issues have been deferred,” the UK MPs wrote.
In the meantime, talks on a new trade pact are entering their “final hours”, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier told the European Parliament on Friday.
Barnier said it was “the moment of truth” for the two sides to come to an agreement.
He said there was still a “chance” of a deal but the “path is very narrow”.
For his part, Boris Johnson again urged the EU to make the first move to overcome the final hurdles with a new offer on access to the UK’s fishing waters.
Johnson said “no sensible government” could sign up to a deal that did not allow the UK to retain control of its laws and its fishing rights. He added that a ‘no deal’ scenario was still the likeliest outcome.
“Yes, it may be difficult at first, but this country will prosper mightily, as I’ve said many, many times, on any terms and under any arrangement,” said Johnson.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]