With only a year left until the United Kingdom officially leaves the European Union, debate about the mechanics of cross-border trade between the UK and EU trade post-Brexit has given way to deep concerns about the fundamental lack of knowledge among UK traders and Customs personnel to properly and efficiently handle the complexities of the declaratory process itself.
The Institute for Government, a UK think tank, estimates that 180,000 British companies (many of whom are small and medium size enterprises) will have to file formal Customs declarations for the first time when the UK formally leaves the EU. The Institute further forecasts that the cost of filing such declarations could end up costing traders in the region of £4 billion a year.
For its part, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) concedes that it will need to recruit and train 3,000 to 5,000 additional officers to handle the increased workload in a post-Brexit environment.
Be that as it may, HMRC is a long way from its hiring goal – only 27 job openings were posted on the Government’s Civil Service Jobs website a year prior to exit.
Even if HMRC were able to hire an additional 3,000 officers, adequately training the new hires is not a given. Custom management, which demands a high degree of expertise in complex policies and procedures, typically takes years to acquire.
At this late stage, Britain appears to be hanging its hat on establishing a new customs arrangement with the EU bloc that would be “as frictionless as possible”. British Chancellor (finance minister) Philip Hammond said he would wait until “the very last moment” before releasing large amounts of money to fund contingency plans for a no-deal scenario.
For many traders, I imagine the very last moment occurred some time ago.