Just a week after publishing the Border Operating Model describing how Britain’s borders will operate from 1 January next year, we learn it’s really only a stop-gap measure after the government launched a consultation on creating “the world’s most effective border” in the next five years.
Not content with erecting conventional barriers to trade with our largest export market, the government is already looking to upgrade them.
In a section that will raise eyebrows in some quarters given the prime minister’s reputation for casual mendacity, the 2025 UK Border Strategy consultation talks of the aim being “to move to a single source of truth for border data across government.” This is to allow each relevant department to access the same data for their needs and so reduce the number of times traders and travelers have to provide the same information.
It means, I assume, the creation of a huge central database on everything animal, vegetable or mineral that ever crosses our borders, a sort of oracle for our modern age.
The government believes that new technology will help to “reduce the burden on traders”, but it will be seen as an implicit admission of just how crushingly intrusive and onerous the border operating model – set to start next year – will be for importers, exporters and travellers.
It wants to “identify, harness and embed the latest smart, cutting-edge approaches into the design and operation of our border and supply chains” in order to make the UK border “as positive and frictionless as possible.” At the moment the border with our main trading partner has zero resistance, so the new schemes can only add friction.
And in a sign that the government is seeking to make Britain an exporter of border technology, it says one aim is to:
“Shape the future development of borders worldwide, to promote the UK’s interests, improve security and facilitate end-to end trade and travel. We will ensure the UK collaborates with its international partners to shape and showcase the UK’s compliance with international standards and practices to ensure interoperability of border processes and systems across industry and other countries to promote integration, strengthen partnerships and harmonise border user journeys.”
One might question the logic of adding friction where previously there was none when the government might have been better remaining in the EU and launching an initiative to reduce the friction on our trade with the rest of the world using high technology if it ever becomes available.
However, one of the processes described in the consultation’s graphic (above) with a simple four-word description is “submission of customs declarations”. But what does it mean in reality? Declarations are made via a form called the ‘single administrative document’, a 56-field, 8-copy form that is internationally recognised but looks terrifying to complete. Here it is:
This comes with an 81-page guide of jargon-filled details on how to complete the 56 boxes. This is just one of the hurdles that the new technology will need to replace.
At the moment, about half of our trade – imports and exports – is with the EU, where no declarations are needed at all. This is frictionless. After Brexit, all will change and 100 per cent of our exports – plus ‘exports’ to Northern Ireland – will need a C88 form, as it’s known here in the UK – and 100 per cent of our imports will need the same.
All of this comes as we learn that even the new Irish Sea border looks highly unlikely to be ready for the end of the year. The hapless Robin Walker, minister of state in the Northern Ireland office, gave evidence to the Lords EU committee yesterday afternoon and said that “guidance” for business was still some “weeks” away.
With 20 weeks to go there are still no firm details of what businesses in the province need to prepare for. Walker confirmed there was ongoing engagement with the business forum but he also said businesses were forbidden to talk about what was being discussed. We learned via a leaked presentation three weeks ago that companies trading across the Irish Sea will be obliged to complete three rounds of customs, security and transit forms on all goods. So much for the prime minister’s promise that there would be no checks.
Lord Kerr was concerned that the extra costs of trade would deter many GB-based businesses from continuing to trade with Northern Ireland and some peers asked about what financial support the government might offer traders in order to keep goods flowing.
It seems that this will be another unforeseen and permanent cost of Brexit.
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