Public Services

Corbyn's customs coup

Jessica Figueras Published 05 March 2018

Technology is being asked to square the circle and solve the Northern Irish border, post-Brexit. But, as Jessica Figueras explains, given IT's delivery track record, that's quite an ask


Labour's softening on Brexit might have caused Remainer rejoicing, but it's not clear that its new policy of remaining in 'a' customs union with the EU would make a palatable deal any more likely. The UK's strategy - shared by Corbyn and May, albeit with different priorities - is still 'have cake and eat it', and this week's draft EU proposal showed the Northern Irish border as the critical fault line.
Boris Johnson is only the latest Brexiter to claim that technology is the means of squaring the circle. Alas, those with experience of central government IT disagree.

Recently the cross-Departmental Border Planning Group gave evidence to the PAC that "Around 30 of the 85 IT systems used at the border will need to be replaced or changed in some way when the UK leaves the EU", and they do not anticipate many of them being ready by March 2019, so are planning for a transition period". Additionally, depending on the negotiated outcome, additional testing for scalability may need to be carried out cope with increased transactions.

Some flavour of hard Brexit looks ever-more likely, meaning European opportunities like this one from the UK Atomic Energy Authority won't be on offer to UK vendors. Although there could be a bigger role for ICO, if Theresa May's pitch for mutual recognition on data protection is heeded by the EU. If. The eventual reconfiguration of Whitehall is still impossible to call, not least because of a scrap over whether powers from EU would be returned to Westminster, Holyrood or Cardiff .

It's against this febrile background that the UK's public finances have unexpectedly improved to the extent of generating a surplus on the current account: a feat hardly any governments ever achieve, except when the economy is booming (it last happened in 2001/2). It's been achieved via a massive squeeze on public service spending, of course. With opinion polls now showing growing public appetite for higher spending, particularly on the NHS, Chancellor Philip Hammond is coming under pressure from all sides - including the increasingly influential group of pro-Brexit backbenchers - to relent. But Spreadsheet Phil has consistently signalled his intent to do no such thing; we should expect the forthcoming Spring Statement to be a dull affair.



Post a comment

Comments may be moderated for spam, obscenities or defamation.

We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.