LONDON • UK businesses have run out of time to prepare for the consequences of Britain leaving the European Union in March without an exit deal, a government audit showed yesterday.
The findings by the National Audit Office, the government's spending watchdog, were published with London and Brussels at loggerheads in Brexit talks.
The audit found that uncertainty over the course of the negotiations has delayed preparations for a no-deal scenario for businesses and the government alike, and that for many, time has run out.
"Businesses do not have enough time to make the changes that will be needed if the UK leaves the EU without a 'deal'," the report said.
It estimated that between 145,000 and 250,000 traders will need to make Customs declarations for the first time should Britain break away without coming to terms with the EU.
"Government papers from July 2018 stated that it was already too late to ensure that all traders were properly prepared for 'no deal'," the report wrote.
The audit also found that 11 out of 12 government projects to replace or upgrade existing border systems to prepare for more rigorous Customs checks were - as of last month - at risk of not being delivered on time and to "acceptable quality".
The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that the government, realising the potential chaos, was drawing up plans to charter ships to bring in food and medicine in case there was no deal.
The newspaper said a meeting of Prime Minister Theresa May's Cabinet on Tuesday was told that a heavily used trade route between the British port of Dover and the French one in Calais would quickly become blocked if no Customs arrangements were made. Britain would then ferry in "critical supplies" and possibly also car parts.
The National Audit Office said there was a "high delivery risk attached to government departments' border programmes for 'day one of no deal' due to their scale, complexity and urgency".
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE