Brexit: 'Impossible to know' what will happen at Irish border
It is "impossible to know" exactly what will happen at the border in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.
With just a fortnight until the UK's scheduled departure from the EU, a report by the Whitehall spending watchdog acknowledges that the border could become vulnerable to fraud, smuggling and other criminal activity.
"The most significant risks to the operation of the border remain, namely business readiness, EU member states imposing controls, and arrangements for the Northern Ireland and Ireland land border," it states.
"Although the government has actions under way to influence these, mitigating these risks is now, to some extent, out of its control."
The report continues: "It is impossible to know exactly what would happen at the border in the event of no deal on 31 October 2019. Departments face new challenges in monitoring and responding to any disruption that may ensue.
"This includes supporting businesses and individuals in meeting their new obligations, mitigating risks of the border becoming vulnerable to fraud, smuggling or other criminal activity, and activating civil contingency plans if necessary."
Looking at the entire UK border, the report says there are 150,000 to 250,000 traders, estimated by HM Revenue & Customs, who would need to make a declaration for the first time in the event of no deal.
The NAO says the Government's reasonable worst-case planning assumptions state that the flow of goods across the short Channel crossings could initially be reduced to 45-65%, taking up to 12 months to flow normally, and in forming this estimate it assumed that 30-60% of hauliers travelling to the EU border will have appropriate documentation.
The watchdog found that despite efforts across Government, a "large proportion" of traders and businesses would not be ready for new customs and regulatory controls if the UK leaves without a deal and might not be able to access the support they require.
"Despite the Government's actions, it has been unable to mitigate the most significant risks to the effective functioning of the UK border in the event of no-deal and the border would be 'less than optimal'," the report states. The NAO says the Government has announced temporary arrangements for managing trade crossing the land border from the Republic to Northern Ireland, but it acknowledges these are "not likely to be sustainable", adding that there is still uncertainty about border arrangements that the Irish government would introduce.
Gareth Davies, the 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," added Mr Davies.