An influential group of MPs has expressed significant concerns about the country’s readiness to leave the EU less than two weeks before Brexit day on December 31.
The Commons Brexit select committee has asked the government to ensure that there is a robust contingency plan in place over the next fortnight to deal with the consequences, as it criticizes the lack of a “general state of readiness” for companies and the citizens.
Many of the details of the new trade and travel barriers are beginning to sink in. Some will not emerge until it is known whether the UK and the EU have been able to reach an agreement before Sunday’s deadline.
The committee has warned that borders should not be compromised if there is no agreement on surveillance that guarantees continued access to law enforcement tools, including the European arrest warrant.
“With only seven business days until the end of the transition period, significant concerns remain,” said Hilary Benn, chair of the committee.
The warning comes in a report released on Saturday as Downing Street and Brussels continue to try to reach a deal, stalled by fishing, before the European parliament’s deadline.
“In this last stage, the government must be ready to implement contingency plans when necessary to mitigate the effects of any disruption. Failure to do so would mean the worst possible start to the new year for many people and companies who are already going through the most difficult times, ”the report says.
Benn said the government “still cannot give businesses, traders and citizens certainty about what will happen in all areas affected by the negotiations.”
The report adds that decisions have been taken “too late”, communication with companies has been “irregular at best” and the police may be forced to use “slower and more cumbersome” systems.
The multi-party committee, which unanimously endorsed the report, warned that the combination of Brexit uncertainty and Covid-19 could hamper UK businesses.
Provisions must be in place to ensure that the UK border is “safe and secure”, while ministers must carefully monitor the effectiveness of alternative means of intelligence sharing for law enforcement, the report says.
If the UK collapses without a deal, it loses access not only to the joint arrest system, but to four other systems as well including: live passenger number records that are vital to counter-terrorism operations; the Schengen Information System II database on missing persons and stolen property; fingerprints and DNA records in a system known as Prüm; and the European Criminal Record Information System (ECRIS), which maintains criminal records across the block.
Before connecting to Prüm’s DNA framework, which contains millions of records on suspected criminals, the UK’s National Crime Agency did the data sharing manually.
The government has said it could still cooperate with EU police and security counterparts using Interpol and other forums.
However, police representatives have said that the alternatives will leave the UK in a weaker position.
While the precise nature of future cooperation with the EU on law enforcement remains unclear, the UK’s security must not be compromised, MEPs say.
They acknowledge that UK law enforcement agencies have been working hard to develop alternatives to EU databases, but caution that “alternative systems for data exchange are slower and more cumbersome.”
They say it is “unlikely” that an EU-UK handover deal to replace the European arrest warrant will be ready in time and urge the government to enter into talks with the Irish government on bilateral police deals for the island of Ireland.
MPs praise the government for its prompt decision to gradually introduce customs and regulatory controls in three stages between January and July, and the recent agreement on the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol.
But they ask Westminster to work with delegate governments to “minimize disruption to traffic” near British ports, citing the lack of veterinary officers to provide mandatory health certificates for food and animal products for exports to the EU from 1 from January.
Decisions on the border model are complicated but have been made “too late” and the “late delivery” of IT systems for customs makes training and testing difficult. Parliamentarians warn that trade with the EU may be hampered if there are insufficient numbers of customs and veterinary staff to carry out checks and provide advice.
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