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The Brexit border conundrum for Northern Ireland

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain faces widespread disruption at its borders when it finally leaves the European Union on Jan. 1, particularly in Northern Ireland where a mechanism to maintain trade is not ready, an official report said on Friday.

Below are the main points from the National Audit Office (NAO), which reviews government spending and planning.


- Officials in Britain and Northern Ireland face a “significant challenge” in implementing the Northern Ireland protocol by Jan. 1, due to the scale of the changes required, the limited time available, the dependence on ongoing negotiations and the complexity of the plan.

- The department responsible for putting in place the systems and infrastructure needed to conduct checks on animal and plant goods believes this will not be ready in time and is looking at contingency options.

- The customs and tax office expects to be ready to deliver the systems needed for a dual tariff regime but it sees the plan as “very high-risk”. It is also identifying alternative plans.

- It will be “challenging” to launch the digital Trader Support Service that will help manage trade between the province and the rest of the UK, with little time left to train staff, develop software and identify Northern Ireland traders.


- Despite the government providing 84 million pounds to boost the number of customs intermediaries, a lack of information about that offer and the future border processes has prevented many from expanding their offerings.

- Significant work is required to expand the Customs Declaration Service (CDS) to enable it to cope with the number of projected declarations.

- The customs office has signed an 85 million pound contract with Fujitsu to support its existing CHIEF customs system alongside CDS. “HMRC (customs) has known since it began its no-deal preparations in 2017 that CDS might need to handle a very significant increase in customs declarations,” it said.


- Ports and carriers have been given limited time to prepare the processes needed for moving goods under the simplified transit process, a key part of the government’s plan.

- The customs office believes it will be very challenging to have ready the seven inland sites that are needed to facilitate transit movements in addition to the ports.


- According to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, the value of goods purchased from Britain for Northern Ireland in 2017 was 10.5 billion pounds.

- Overall in 2019, some 220 million tonnes of freight crossed between the UK and the rest of the EU, not including an unknown amount moving between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

- The customs office estimates 270 million customs declarations will needed to be processed a year from 2021, compared with current volumes of 55 million.

- Government has funded 1.41 billion pounds in 2020 for border infrastructure, systems and support for industry.

Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Guy Faulconbridge