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UK trade will face ‘significant disruption’ when Brexit transition ends

UK trade with the EU will face “significant disruption” when the
Brexit transition ends, regardless of whether a trade deal is agreed,
the UK government spending watchdog has warned.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said preparations for the new border
controls – which had already been rated “high risk” – had been further
hampered by the coronavirus pandemic. The controls are due to come into
place on 1 January, the day after the transition period ends.

With less than two months to go, the NAO said key IT systems had yet
to be tested and transit areas for lorries were not ready. It added that
the government had still not taken the steps required to ensure there
were enough customs agents, seen as “vital” to the smooth working of the
system.

At the same time, civil contingency plans to maintain the supply of
medicines and other critical goods, including acquiring extra freight
capacity away from the main Channel crossings, were proving more
difficult to enact due to the pandemic.

The NAO also highlighted concerns about the checks that will be
required for goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural
Affairs (DAERA), which is responsible for checks on agri-food products,
had been “severely hampered” by the ongoing trade talks with Brussels
and a “lack of clarity” over the measures required.

As a result, DAERA had concluded it would not be possible to complete the necessary work on its systems and infrastructure by 1 January. It said it was having to explore “contingency options”.

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