Britain’s borders are not ready for the 1 January Brexit deadline, a leading trade expert has warned.
Customs and trade expert Dr Anna Jerzewska said on Wednesday: “We don’t really know what’s going to happen on the border on 1 January.”
The UK and EU are currently negotiating their future trade relationship. If an agreement cannot be reached, the UK will leave the transition period without a trade deal.
Giving evidence to MPs on the Brexit select committee, Dr Jerzewska was asked if the UK’s borders were ready to deal with the end of the transition period.
She said: “We’re not ready, and we’re not entirely sure what we need to be ready for.”
She added: “In terms of border readiness, one of the issues is the fact that a lot of different actors need to be ready. HMRC need to be ready, Border Force needs to be ready, companies obviously need to be ready, as well as customs brokers and port authorities.”
Negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and EU began on 3 March but have been derailed by the coronavirus pandemic, with neither side able to stick to the agreed timetable.
Despite this, Boris Johnson has insisted the UK will not seek an extension to the transition period.
Limited discussions have taken place virtually.
Discussions remained deadlocked after the most recent round of talks, with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier accusing the UK of backtracking on promises.
Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt said on Tuesday that Britain "cannot keep negotiating forever" with the EU over Brexit.
She repeatedly ruled out extending the transition period beyond December this year and pressed the need for the UK to be treated as a "sovereign equal".
Mordaunt said: "We cannot keep negotiating forever, we have to allow our businesses, our farmers, our citizens time to implement the decisions taken.
"And that is why we are at this key stage now where we have to increase and escalate negotiations because we need to arrive at a deal soon."
Britain and the EU are still at loggerheads in the negotiations to reach a trade deal by the time the deadline hits.
Barnier said last week that there had been "no significant areas of progress" while his UK counterpart David Frost said they would have to "intensify and accelerate" the process if there was to be any chance of an agreement.
As it stands, Britain will leave the EU single market when the current Brexit transition period comes to an end at the end of the year with nothing to replace it unless a deal is agreed.
Barnier said the "door is still open" for the UK to seek an extension to the transition period to allow more time for negotiations to continue.