The government’s recent border plan announcements have hinted at a vision for the UK to have ‘the world’s most effective border that creates prosperity and enhances security for a global United Kingdom’ by 2025. This has now been confirmed by the launch of a Cabinet Office consultation seeking the views and expertise of stakeholders to help develop the 2025 UK Border Strategy.
Stakeholders including cross-border traders, port operators, hauliers, along with their representative bodies and advisors, are asked for their views on the government’s overall vision and objectives, as well as what does and doesn’t work well with the current border arrangements. The consultation not only covers the customs clearance of goods entering and leaving the UK, but also a wide range of other border issues, such as immigration, security and biosecurity.
The government’s objectives for customs clearance of goods, are to:
- promote UK growth and prosperity by facilitating international trade from businesses of all sizes, while effectively collecting the revenue owed; and
- create a border that is value for money, increases the resilience of international supply chains and minimises the risk of disruption at UK ports.
The consultation document also lists ‘transformations’ that the government believes it needs to achieve in partnership with the border industry in order to deliver its vision. These include:
- moving as many processes and infrastructure away from the border as possible;
- creating a highly digitised and automated border;
- developing a co-ordinated user-centric government approach at the border so systems and processes can be delivered and data collected in a joined-up manner;and
- building the capability of staff responsible for delivering border processes and users of the border.
At this stage, the government asks for views on whether these are the right steps to take, and whether they would decrease the costs and overall burden on businesses and passengers crossing the border. The consultation also asks some very open questions about how the transformations could be delivered in practice, e.g. what technological solutions are needed, how the capability of frontline staff can be developed, how the government could help the border industry to innovate to develop better border processes and systems.
The consultation period runs until 28 August 2020, and the Cabinet Office says it will publish a 2025 UK Border Strategy at the end of the year.
This consultation presents the border plan at a very high level. Further consultation is likely to follow over the next few years. It doesn’t address many practical steps at this stage, and perhaps infers that the government expects, as it did for Making Tax Digital for VAT, that some of the digital systems needed will be created by the border industries rather than government departments.
Considering the border plan is an important part of shaping the UK’s future relationship with the rest of the world, the consultation period is surprisingly short. Many of the stakeholders consulted are already fully occupied with the immediate priorities of navigating the coronavirus crisis and preparing for the end of the Brexit transition period. With the best will in the world they may not be in a position to brainstorm potential solutions by the end of August. More importantly, the border industries may prefer that the government concentrates on implementing a basic and working customs border with the EU in time for 1 January 2021 before turning its attention to such ambitious long-term plans.