Government papers show post-Brexit customs systems will take up to five years to implement

SMBs will struggle to adapt to new customs arrangements, business representatives told the government in a meeting last month

Brexit

Government papers have acknowledged that setting up a new customs system after Brexit may take up to five years.

Documents circulated to business representatives as part of a consultation process show the government's own timescale for putting new customs systems into place is between three and five years.

According to Sky News, a meeting between the government and ten representatives from retailers Tesco and Asos, as well as manufacturers BMW, GE, GSK, and logistics firms UPS, ABP, BCC and EEF was held on 20 June to discuss the government's proposals for future customs arrangements.

The briefing documents were provided to the representatives in a Cabinet Office meeting, chaired by David Lidington MP and featuring environment secretary Michael Gove and international trade secretary Liam Fox, in which ministers presented "through detailed" versions of potential customs arrangements.

But businesses painted a more pessimistic picture for SMBs, telling senior cabinet ministers that while larger businesses were able to adapt to a new customs model, it would represent a greater struggle for smaller businesses in their supply chain.

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"Five years is incredibly optimistic, and government was told very firmly it would take a decade or more to develop a system that could work in particular for all the small and medium sized businesses," a source told Sky News.

They expressed concerns for the "increasingly terrified" smaller businesses in their supply chains who have minimal experience in handling customs declarations, while saying these companies are unlikely to make the most of any pre-notification, automated number plate and facial recognition systems as they rarely use the same lorries or drivers.

With the UK having until March 2019 to shape its relationship with the EU post-Brexit, the concerns of many in the business community are intensifying, as campaigners attempt to lobby the government to secure a deal as close as possible to the status quo.

But any tech companies opposed to Brexit only have eight months to reverse the decision, according to the chief executive officer for the campaign group Best for Britain, speaking at a panel event for the Europeas in London on Tuesday.

"I appeal to the techies to look beyond your own remits, which will inevitably get harder," said Eloise Todd.

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"It doesn't matter if you have a so-called 'soft' Brexit where the rules don't really change, because the UK will have absolutely no say on them.

"Even the best case scenario, where it doesn't collapse economically, we would still have very little influence which is quite important for people in the tech industry."

Despite the limited time that remains in which to negotiate a deal prior to entering a transition period, the government's own documents suggests any customs system will only come to fruition far beyond this period.

The department for exiting the European Union (DexEU) was approached for comment.

Image credit: Bigstock 

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