The Treasury Committee has written to chancellor Rishi Sunak to express “serious concerns” that an eleventh-hour trade deal with the EU would not give businesses enough time to prepare for Brexit.
The select committee said it was left with a “significant number of outstanding questions and issues”, following an evidence session around the UK’s preparedness for the end of the transition period on 31 December.
The cross-party group of MPs warned that delays to setting up computer systems that allow businesses to handle new post-Brexit customs requirements will significantly hamper UK companies.
“It appears that the government has left it very late to develop all the IT needed in time, with testing and changes still being made now, years after the government had chosen to leave the EU customs union,” said the letter to the chancellor.
Senior backbenchers, including Conservative MP Steve Baker and Labour MP Angela Eagle, urged Sunak to commit to a “hard deadline” for British companies to be granted access to the necessary customs apps and software.
The committee added that there was confusion over which ports traders could use when Britain formally leaves the bloc on 1 January, warning that “until traders know this information, they cannot adapt”.
Stride noted that the government had not yet met its recruitment benchmark for new customs officials, warning that HMRC still needed to recruit and train a further 1,000 officials by January.
“The committee came away from its evidence session… with serious concerns about the UK’s customs preparedness for the end of the Brexit transition period,” committee chair Mel Stride said.
“I’ve asked the chancellor to respond to our concerns as a matter of urgency,” he added.
It comes as Michel Barnier arrived in London yesterday for crunch negotiations in the hopes of hammering out a last-minute trade deal with the UK.
Talks stalled last week after Prime Minister Boris Johnson reneged on a self-imposed 15 October deadline for reaching the “outline of a deal”, ahead of the transition period deadline at the end of the year.
Giving evidence at the select committee today, Lord Agnew, Minister of state for the Cabinet Office, said the lack of clarity over whether the UK will strike a deal with the EU was “very frustrating”.
“The Prime Minister has said that we need to know whether we have a deal or not by 15 October, because we then have to do this preparatory work, if there is a deal.”
Agnew warned that companies had been given little notice to prepare for Brexit due to delayed negations adding: “There seems to be a lack of urgency on the part of too many traders… too many traders have a head-in-the-sand approach”.