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14 November 2017, 08:43 | Elsie Buchanan
GETTYMPs are worried that not enough money is in place to upgrade customs service
MPs have expressed surprise that the Treasury has not yet coughed up the cash that HM Revenue and Customs needs to upgrade its customs system to cope with a probable five-fold workload increase following Brexit.
The department has said using its existing CHIEF system is the main contingency option if CDS isn't ready, something it is developing as a contingency option in parallel with its implementation of CDS.
Not adapting in time could mean queues at the port in Dover, food being left to rot in trucks at the border and huge disruption for businesses, it warned.
The committee's chairwoman, Labour MP Meg Hillier, said: 'Failure to have a viable customs system in place before the UK's planned exit from the European Union would wreak havoc for United Kingdom business, trade and our global reputation.
As a member of the EU's customs union, the United Kingdom does not impose taxes or require customs declarations on goods from other member states - but as part of Brexit, ministers plan to leave the customs union and negotiate a new arrangement in its place.
MPs have today warned of the "catastrophic" scenario of HMRC failing to have a back-up system in place if its Customs Declaration Service (CDS) programme is not ready in time for Brexit.
"HMRC is under considerable pressure to deliver the new Customs Declaration Service (CDS) in time, but it does not yet have funding to increase the capacity of CDS to deal with the consequences of Brexit - nor to develop contingency options". 'Tight timeline " The report issues a stark warning that there could be financial as well as operational implications of not acting now.
The report described the introduction of CDS as "a programme of national importance that could have a huge reputational impact for the United Kingdom if it is not delivered successfully". "This is a programme of national importance that could have a huge reputational impact for the United Kingdom if it is not delivered successfully", the report warns.
In 2015, there were around 55 million customs declarations, a figure which is set to increase to 255 million after Brexit.
The report also calls for HMRC to improve its engagement with traders and keep them abreast of the CDS timeline; to "urgently prioritise and make hard decisions" with regard to its "unsustainable" amount of transformation projects; and to report back to the PAC on progress made by March 2018.
She said HMRC needed a relatively small sum to upgrade the current system but had been told by HMRC it was merely "in conversation" over upgrade costs.
During the transition between the two systems, the old version would operate in tandem with the new one, he added.
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