We need 5,000 extra customs officers to cope with Brexit - but more cuts are coming instead

Author
Published date
03 Oct 2018
Front-line workers fear more cuts will leave the customs service unable to cope if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal
Border force workers unload boxes from the back of a lorry
Our customs services need more staff and resources to prepare for Brexit Credit: Getty

Workers on the front line of our customs service know what it means to protect our borders.

After years of staff cutbacks, they’re really worried about what will happen to our customs border if the UK crashes out of the EU without a good deal.

And they’re warning us that if the customs services don’t get the staff and resources they need, the UK border could become less secure.

That’s why we urgently need to know what type of customs arrangement the UK is going to have with the EU in the future.

And it’s why we believe the best way to protect trade, jobs and workers’ rights is for the UK to be in the single market and stay in a customs union with the EU.

Border farce

Protecting our borders from illegal goods is the responsibility of both UK Border Force and HMRC, but they’ve both suffered under the government’s austerity agenda.

Theresa May’s decision to prioritise passport checks while home secretary also diverted resources away from protecting our custom border.

This means there are huge areas of our coastline that aren’t protected right now – and we haven’t even left the EU yet.

There are also plans to slash HMRC’s operations to just 13 regional centres and five specialist sites, leaving most ports and airports in the UK miles from the nearest HMRC office.

There will be no offices in Scotland outside of Glasgow and Edinburgh, even though the Scottish mainland has over 6,000 miles of coastline.

Offices in Southampton and Ipswich are also set to close, while the entire South West will be covered by one office in Bristol.

This won’t just mean job losses, but the loss of years of experience at a time when we might need up to 5,000 extra people to cope with Brexit.

That’s why it’s complete madness for HMRC to be pressing ahead with office closures just a few months before Brexit day on 29 March 2019.

Frictionless trade

More cuts to our customs service are very worrying given the growing risk of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.

So many jobs depend on easy trade with EU countries.

UK companies sell over £200 billion of goods and services in EU countries every year – over half of all our trade.

At the moment, being a member of the customs union means there aren’t any barriers to this trade.

But if the government carries out its plan to not be in any customs union with the EU, new custom duties (tariffs) will be introduced on trade from the EU.

These duties won’t just impact on the businesses across the UK that will suddenly be hit by extra costs when buying goods from the EU or trying to sell goods in EU markets.

It will also have a huge impact on the public service workers who protect our borders.

And nobody has even started to work out how the fantasy customs plan that Theresa May proposed at Chequers would work in practice – much less explain it to workers on the border.

This means we’re faced with the real risk that we won’t have the time or resources to make sure the customs system can cope.

Time running out

HMRC now has less than six months to prepare to deal with the vast increase in the volume of customs declarations that would result from leaving the customs union.

This will also lead to the introduction of new import taxes for business and for delivery – taxes that HMRC staff will need to process.

Then there is the compliance regime that we would have to set up to counter tax evasion and avoidance.

All of this would require a big increase in staffing, and each new member of staff will require specialist training.

But without clarity on what the new arrangements are going to be, HMRC staff simply don’t know what they need to prepare for.

The government’s inability to spell out its plans for customs after Brexit is putting the security of our customs border at risk and threatening jobs across the economy.

Whatever way you voted two years ago, nobody voted for that.