Government secrecy over its new border operating system is hindering the country’s Brexit preparations, according to haulage industry bosses who labelled the process a “complete shambles”.
In a letter seen exclusively by Sky News, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has warned Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove that delays in sharing the new IT software with the industry will leave them unprepared for the end of the transition period in 35 days’ time.
The letter was sent ahead of a meeting scheduled between business groups and Mr Gove on Tuesday, but he sent junior minister Lord Agnew in his place.
The chief executive of the RHA, Richard Burnett, described the proceedings as a “complete shambles” and said he “walked away with no questions being answered again”.
Among its concerns is the readiness of the government’s Goods Vehicle Management System (GVMS), which is intended to allow hauliers to submit the required customs declarations for goods entering the EU from 1 January.
The government has said GVMS will ensure smooth customs procedures and avoid delays by allowing hauliers to enter details of consignments before they reach congested ports.
Currently only a very small number of hauliers have access to the trial system, which is expected to be rolled out around 23 December, just eight days before businesses will be required to use it.
In contrast, the equivalent French model, SI Brexit, has been publicly tested for over a year.
In his letter, Mr Burnett warned “there is insufficient time to prepare for a smooth transition, deal or not”.
He calls on the government to ask the EU to phase in their border checks, a position the UK government has taken for inbound goods from the continent and Northern Ireland.
Failure to reach such an agreement will create “significant problems with both trade and flow, something [the] UK government and business will need to deal with live, akin to operational disaster recovery,” he wrote.
The RHA also highlighted the added pressure on businesses having to deal with a second national lockdown, Christmas demand and stockpiling for 1 January.
The meeting took place on the day French authorities trialled some of their post-Brexit checks, leading to queues of lorries stretching for five miles along the M20 motorway in Kent.
Other industries have also voiced their concern, with the British pharmaceutical industry telling Sky News this week that the UK and EU must reach an agreement on medicines to avoid border and regulatory disruption.
A government spokesperson told Sky News: “We have made significant preparations for the end of the transition period – including investing £705m in infrastructure, staffing and technology at the border, providing £84m in grants to boost the customs intermediaries sector, and implementing border controls in stages so traders have sufficient time to prepare.
“We are also confident that the delivery of HMRC IT systems necessary for the end of the transition period is on track.
“With fewer than 40 days to go, it’s vital that businesses also take steps to prepare now for the changes and opportunities ahead.
“That’s why we’re intensifying our engagement with industry and running a major public information campaign so they know exactly what they need to do to hit the ground running in the new year.”
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