Only eight weeks to go to Boris Johnson’s border chaos day

Lorries leaving ferries at a British port. Pic credit: National Audit Office

A damning new report has come from Parliament’s financial watchdog, the National Audit Office, on what to expect at the ports on January 2 whether the country leaves the EU with a deal or no deal.

Despite spending a humungous £1.41 billion for new infrastructure and IT systems – which wouldn’t be required if we had stayed in the EU – it looks like we are heading for chaos because we are still not properly prepared.

Instead of having to process some 55 million customs declarations a year Customs and Excise will have to handle 270 million.

And some 219.5 million tonnes of freight crossed the border between the UK and EU in 2019 and only between 30 and 60 per cent of lorries are prepared for the change.

And guess what? With eight weeks to go the government doesn’t know how much trade there is between the UK and Northern Ireland which is subject to the new Northern Ireland protocol that Boris Johnson signed last year. This will require new documentation and registering with a new import control service. And again the government doesn’t know how many firms have to sign up pointing to potential chaos on sea routes across the Irish sea between Wales, Scotland and England.

worst case scenario

And in the worst case scenario there could also be queues of up to 7000 lorries trying to access the Channel ports.

The scale of the exercise in Whitehall is shown by the number of departments involved As the report says:

“This includes HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, the Home Office, the Department for Transport, and the Border and Protocol Delivery Group (BPDG) and Transition Task Force (TTF), which are both situated within the Cabinet Office. BPDG is responsible for coordinating government’s preparations in relation to the border and TTF has oversight of overall EU Exit preparations, following the closure of the Department for Exiting the European Union in January 2020.”

Auditors have also engaged with departments within the
Northern Ireland civil service which have the most significant roles in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The picture is not pretty. The first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic led to a three month pause in ministerial meetings to organise the new border regulations and as a result many of the new customs declarations will be delayed until July 2021 rather than January. Yet for political reasons the Cabinet would not extend the transition period,

computer glitches

Then there is a good chance of computer glitches in the operating of the new system at all ports. The report says:

“Integrating the processes, IT systems, infrastructure and resources to operate together for the first time from 1 January 2021 is inherently complex and high-risk. In addition third parties, such as ports and community software providers, who need to develop new software
which integrates with new or changed government systems, have been given very little time in which to prepare and are unlikely to be able to do so in time for 1 January 2021. “

Can you imagine the mess there will be on the first day and it won’t just be teething problems.

The government is hoping to get round it by appointing customs intermediaries – at a cost of £84 m – to help firms negotiate the new system. But it has started slowly, not all the money to appoint them has been used and Whitehall has given the plan a red light because they fear it would not be ready in time.

Covid-19

Also the present second wave of Covid-19 could make matters worse as firms will have to cope with that and a new system. The report says:

“The emergency response to COVID-19 has placed strain on local authorities, industry and supply chains’ ability to plan and put in place contingency arrangements. Disruption at the border maybe harder to manage if it also happens alongside further COVID-19 outbreaks and a background of economic uncertainty.”

Details of the Northern Ireland arrangements are partly in the hands of the Northern Ireland government. But report says: “Its ability
to take forward this work has been severely hampered by the ongoing
negotiations and, in the case of infrastructure, the lack of clarity about
the level of checking that will be required.”

Boris the Bodger

The final picture is dire. The report says:

“It is very unlikely that all traders, industry and third parties will be ready
for the end of the transition period, particularly if the EU implements its
stated intention of introducing full controls at its border from 1 January 2021.”
If the EU keep to its word and the government is as unprepared as this report suggests – the chaos with lorries stranded in new overflow car parks, delays and confusion in operating the system and computer systems failing all on the same day will be very bad news. Boris the Builder will become Boris the Bodger and no one will thank him for the mess.

Welcome to your new rulers: UK Commissioners Gove, Johnson and Cummings

Commissioner Johnson ?
Henry VIII: Pic credit BBC

The most famous rallying cry by the Brexit campaigners was ” Take Back Control”. The people who supported this saw it as simply meaning taking away powers from the unelected European Commissioners in Brussels and giving it back to the British people. It meant the sovereignty of the British Parliament to make laws solely for the British people.

Well a completely ignored report from the House of Lords suggests we are about to discover something altogether different. I wrote about this in Byline Times last week.

The House of Lords Constitution Committee – not a well known body – has done a forensic job examining every bit of legislation passed and going through Parliament to change the law after Brexit becomes a reality on January 1 next year.

These are not just the better known laws like the  European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 but new Acts of Parliament covering covering agriculture, money laundering, immigration, trade, taxation,reciprocal health agreements and even the granting of road haulage licences.

What this comprehensive analysis reveals is that far from Parliament getting new freedoms to introduce new laws for the British people the powers are being transferred from the European Commission to government ministers and indirectly to government advisers like Dominic Cummings.

What is happening is that the perceived rule from Brussels by Brexiteers is being replaced by a real rule by decree by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

Henry VIII powers

How you might ask? The answer is the widespread use of what are known as ” Henry VIII ” powers – or more arcanely known as statutory instruments. These are orders allowing ministers to change the law by decree – either putting down an order which Parliament has 90 minutes to debate or a negative order that if MPs don’t spot it is already law unless Parliament can overturn it.

Now what the peers have discovered is that all these bills are littered with these powers – 40 in the agriculture bill alone – giving huge discretion to introduce not only rule by decree but powers to introduce new criminal offences with unlimited fines.

One extraordinary power governing export and import duties give ministers huge powers – including one to change the law by “ public notice” avoiding informing Parliament at all. This brings us back to Tudor times when all Henry VIII had to do was to pin up a notice ordering the dissolution of the monasteries..

Now why does this matter? Take the agriculture bill which will govern the rules if, as the US wants in trade negotiations, for us to import chlorinated chicken and according to recent reports to change food labeling laws in the UK. Now this bill in its initial form gave ministers a Henry VIII power to change the law for the marketing of food including what is on the label.

So if Waitrose followed what it said it will do and clearly label chlorinated chicken a government minister could just change the law by decree making it illegal to do so. And if Waitrose disobeyed they could face unlimited fines.

Now the bill has been modified a bit but MPs and peers ought to be careful that powers don’t sneak in by the back door.

150 new ministerial powers running to 174 pages

Another more obscure Act according to peers also gives huge powers to ministers.

The report said: “The Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill involves a massive transfer of power from the House of Commons to Ministers of the Crown. Ministers are given well over 150 separate powers to make tax law for individuals and businesses. These laws made by Ministers will run to thousands of pages. The Treasury’s delegated powers memorandum, which sets out in detail all these law-making powers, alone runs to 174 pages.”

And ministers are also taking powers in some circumstances to override laws passed by the Scottish Parliament by government decree and to interfere in which already adopted EU case law can be decided by tribunals and lower courts.

Courts facing ministerial directions

The peers were incandescent about the latter.Their report said:

“The granting of broad ministerial powers in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 to determine which courts may depart from CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) case law and to give interpretive direction in relation to the meaning of retained EU law was – and remains – inappropriate. 

“Each of these powers should remain the preserve of primary legislation. There is a significant risk that the use of this ministerial power could undermine legal certainty and exacerbate the existing difficulties for the courts when dealing with retained EU law.”

Now in my opinion because of the Covid-19 crisis the government is using this to introduce major changes to our unwritten constitution to bypass Parliament. I don’t blame my lobby colleagues for missing this – the 24/7 news agenda hardly gives them time to study a detailed House of Lords report.

It could be that a post Brexit Parliament may not need to sit as often as now – but just meet occasionally to scrutinise the latest ministerial decree.

I don’t think this is what the average Brexiteer will have envisaged. I don’t think the majority of people in this country want to live in a society where ministers and Downing Street have overweening powers to create new criminal offences by decree without being properly scrutinised by Parliament. We are losing our safeguards by stealth.

On Byline Times: Johnson’s power grab over EU withdrawal bill revealed by Lords report

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn at Queen’s Speech. Pic credit: UK Parliament/ Jessica Taylor

Boris Johnson thought he had got away with Parliament not being able to scrutinise his EU Withdrawal bill by calling an election. But on the last day of Parliament the House of Lords rumbled him and their analysis does not paint a pretty picture. Full report on Byline Times.

For purists actual House of Lords Constitution Committee report here.

On Byline Times: Forensic examination by Lords reveals flaws in Liz Truss’s ” gold standard ” trade deal with Korea

Liz Truss, international trade secretary. Pic credit:BBC

Claims by Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, that the UK’s biggest independent trade deal with Korea hit the ” gold standard” are ruthlessly exposed by a House of Lords committee. The full story on Byline Times here reveals that government’s claims we would be better outside the EU for trade are suspect – and ministers don’t want them properly scrutinised by Parliament.

On Byline Times: Brexit chaos leads to big drop in EU science money as scientists stay away from UK

Nanotechnology helping the food industry. Pic credit: European Commission

The Royal Society has issued a dire warning that the UK is already suffering a big drop in science funding from the EU because of Brexit.- MPs in Parliament warn it could get even worse contrary to claims by Boris Johnson. Full story here

On Byline Times:Brexit – Two time zones next for Ireland

The end of summer time is about to cause new divisions across Ireland as the UK opts out and the Republic of Ireland is expect to have to opt in to a new European Commission directive Pic Credit: Articular/ Freepik

I have done a story today on Byline Times on an issue that will further divide the communities in Ireland – proposed changes by the European Commission to cease putting the clocks forward and back every year. It is coming to a head just as the UK is close to leaving the European Union. You can read it here.

On Byline Times: MPs slam secrecy and cover up over Brexit management consultancy contracts

Whitehall claimed ” administrative error” for all the secrecy

Whitehall is condemned yesterday by a powerful all party committee of MPs for being over secretive over the award of nearly £100m of management consultants contracts to handle Brexit.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee accuses Whitehall of breaching government guidelines in making public contract details, awarding nearly all the work to just six companies and covering up some of the contracts.

Full story on Byline Times.

Ministers pre-empt Brexit by changing disabled drivers blue badges putting holidaymakers at risk of parking fines

Government jumps Brexit by removing EU symbols from blue badges.

As you can see from the picture above the Government has sneakily already decided that Britain has left the EU as far as 2.35 million disabled blue badge holders are concerned.

My new card for my wife issued this week has been stripped of its EU symbols even before we have left the EU. It appears to reassure people by using nine foreign languages to describe it as a disabled parking card.

But investigating the real position of disabled driving post a ” No Deal ” Brexit this is totally misleading and could easily end up with holiday makers being fined in some European countries for illegal parking.

At present as a member of the EU all UK blue badge holders can get concessionary parking in virtually all European countries. If they hire a car they can take the blue badge with them as it is not tied to a particular vehicle. And the Independent Living advice site thinks nothing has changed. It says:

“It is not likely that Brexit would lead to the UK changing the format of the Blue Badge, so there is no obvious reason why it would not continue to be recognised across Europe, in the same way as those issued in Switzerland and Norway. “

However a more detailed investigation on a disabled motorists site paints a different picture.

It shows that once Britain leaves with a No Deal using this card will vary from country to country. In Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Iceland, Norway,Austria, Poland,Luxembourg, Romania and Cyprus there will be no problem.

But in France, Croatia, Finland,Leichenstein and Latvia the card won’t be recognised because we are from a third country.

In Germany you will have to notify the local council or police and get a card to park as a disabled driver.

And it may not be recognised in Holland, Belgium or the Czech Republic because it does not have a disabled wheelchair sign on the card.

In Malta and Portugal you must apply in advance for a special card if you want to use it. At present as a member of the EU you have no problems and can use the Blue Badge Card.

In Italy you have to check with the local council – it will vary from city to city where you can use your card. At present you can use it everywhere. The same applies to Lithuania and Hungary.

In the UK it is being left to the local council’s discretion whether they want to recognise blue badges from other EU or European Economic Area countries.

So far as I can see the government does not seem to have thought about it at all – most advice dates from 2008 and 2013 on Whitehall websites.

On Byline Times: The reactionary world of Therese Coffey, the new £154,000 a year secretary of state for work and pensions

Image
Therese Coffey in relaxed mood: Pic Credit: Daily Mail reproduced on Twitter

Boris Johnson has appointed one of the most hard line and divisive women to replace Amber Rudd as secretary for state for work and pensions. The new secretary of state’s voting record reveals a tranche of reactionary views likely to be offensive to gays, women, pensioners and non smokers.   She would also like millions of Europeans who live in the UK to have no right to stay here.

 Cigar smoking Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk, Coastal, would like to lift the ban on smoking in public places, bring back limitless betting odds on addictive gambling machines and is an opponent of gay marriage. Her voting record is recorded on Theyworkforyou.com

The full story is on Byline Times here.

On Byline Times: Boris Johnson’s plan for 100 new Brexit Peers hits the Lords buffers

Lord Fowler, the Lord speaker Pic credit: Parliament.uk

Boris Johnson has shot himself in the foot over plans to flood the House of Lords with up to 100 No Deal Brexit supporting peers and simultaneously planning to prorogue Parliament.

The scheme announced over the Bank Holiday weekend has already run into serious trouble in the Lords.

In an article in Byline Times I explain how the PM has now annoyed the Lord Speaker Lord Fowler as well as John Bercow, the Commons Speaker- and how his plan will run into the ground through House of Lords procedures and a competing peerage list from Theresa May. See here