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“Confidence collapsed” in key UK Customs project for Brexit

The Chair of a UK Parliament Treasury Committee said on March 31 that “confidence had collapsed” in Britain’s having essential Customs IT infrastructure ready to handle the expected fivefold increase in Customs declarations in time for its planned Spring 2019 EU exit date.

There has been doubt for some time about whether the planned new Customs Declaration Service (CDS), which was due to be implemented at the start of 2019, would be onstream in time to handle the fivefold increase in checks needed if Britain also leaves the Single Market when it leaves the EU in spring 2019. With Customs controls on arrivals from the EU then essential, the currrent IT systems would simply be unable to cope.

In November 2016, Britain’s , Britain’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority gave the CDS project a “green light”, a rating that indicates the project would be delivered successfully and on time. At that time, it appears, the assumption was that the UK would remain in the Single Market. 67 days later, though, it changed the rating to “amber or red, meaning it is “in doubt”, with “major risks”.

In February, it now appears, Britain’s Customs authority (known in the UK as HMRC) wrote to MP Andrew Tyrie, who chairs the Commons Treasury select committee, the Revenue insisted the timetable for delivering CDS was “challenging but achievable.” But HMRC added that CDS was “a large and complex programme” that needs to be linked up to dozens of other computer systems — covering everything from number plate recognition to aviation tracking — in order to work properly.

Tyrie’s response was to say “confidence in the successful implementation of the CDS – a project that HMRC itself describes as ‘business critical’ – has collapsed”.

“Customs is at the heart of the Brexit debate. It is part of the essential plumbing for international trade, and ensuring it continues to function smoothly post-Brexit has to be a priority,” he said. “The CDS is needed in order to handle a possible fivefold increase in declarations that could occur when the UK leaves the EU. The consequences of this project failing, or even being delayed, could be serious. Much trade could be lost. The project, therefore, merits a high degree of scrutiny by parliament.”

In its correspondence with MPs, due to be published during March 31, HMRC provided no precise explanation for the change. Some believe the downgrade was caused by Mrs May’s unexpected decision to leave the Single Market: a decision many prominent Brexit campaigners in Mrs May’s government actively promised would not be taken