Brexit and the future of Customs

Author (Corporate)
Series Title
Series Details (2017-19) HC401
Publication Date 14/11/2017
Content Type ,

The Public Accounts Committee of the United Kingdom House of Commons published a report called Brexit and the future of Customs on the 14 November 2017.

In the report the Committee warned the Government must do more to work with businesses and ensure a contingency option was in place well before January 2019.

Further information

Under current plans, the UK was set to leave the European single market and the customs union in March 2019. It would be catastrophic, the Committee argued in the report, if HM Revenue & Customs' new customs system, the Customs Declaration Service, was not ready in time and if there was no viable fall-back option.

In 2015, around 55m customs declarations were made by 141,000 traders. The UK's exit from the EU could see the number of customs declarations which HMRC must process each year increase five-fold to 255m. A failed customs system could therefore lead to huge disruption for businesses, with delays potentially causing massive queues at Dover and resulting in food being left to rot in trucks at the border.

This was a programme of national importance that could have a huge reputational impact for the UK if it was not delivered successfully.

The uncertainty regarding the outcome of UK-EU negotiations was a complicating factor but it should not be used by HMRC to avoid taking action now in areas including: scaling up the CDS service to handle 255m declarations; ensuring a viable contingency option was in place well before January 2019; and communicating with traders.

The report formed part of the Committee's ongoing examination of aspects of the UK's departure from the EU. The Committee would take evidence on Brexit and the UK border later in November 2017.


HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) was due to complete a five-year programme for a new Customs Declaration Service (CDS) by early 2017. However, delays meant that CDS would not be fully operational until January 2019.

In July 2017 the National Audit Office (NAO) published a report into CDS that found there were still significant amounts of work required to meet this new target. If there were further delays, CDS might not be running fully by the time the UK was due to leave the European Union in March 2019.

Although HMRC due diligence had found that the CDS system would remain suitable following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, there was considerable uncertainty as to what customs environment the UK would operate in.

On 9 October 2017 the Government published a White Paper describing future customs legislation for post-Brexit. It set out potential scenarios for a new customs relationship with the EU — but it was not yet clear whether HMRC’s existing CDS programme would work for all of them without modification. It was also not clear whether the proposed finish date of January 2019 would give time to make those modifications.

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Related Links
UK: Parliament: House of Commons: Parliamentary Business: News, 14.11.17: 'Catastrophic' if viable customs system not in place at Brexit
The Guardian, 14.11.17: Brexit: failure to update customs system could be 'catastrophic'
BBC News, 14.11.17: MPs warn of Brexit customs 'catastrophe'
ESO: In Focus: Brexit - The United Kingdom and the European Union

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