Long training programmes for inspectors — as long as three years in Germany and two in France — and reluctance to start boosting numbers amid uncertainty over the final shape of Brexit mean it is already too late for some member states to bring enough staff on stream by March 2019.
Both Britain and the EU27 are dependent on the other side having functioning customs procedures to avoid severe delays at ports and British ministers are stepping up contingency planning for a “no deal” outcome. UK officials expecting to need up to 5,000 extra staff to cope with up to a fivefold increase in customs declarations.
But Britain’s preparations also rely on the EU27 being ready. Last week Ivan Rogers, Britain’s former top official in Brussels, told MPs that any British plan “has to be brutally road tested against the reality of what the other side of the channel would do in circumstances of a breakdown in the talks”.
Candidates to become customs officials in Germany must follow a three year course, meaning a recruitment drive now would only start to bear fruit in late 2020. France’s two-year programme means those who applied in this year’s recruitment round for the next course in 2018 will not start to enter service until mid-2020.
Sweden’s basic training lasts only about a year. But a customs official confirmed the department had “not heard that we will increase [the number of staff] due to Brexit”. Belgium and the Netherlands have less rigid recruitment processes, with customs officers learning on the job. But a recent KPMG report said the Netherlands, the UK’s third-biggest European trading partner, needed to start recruiting immediately if it were to cope with an anticipated 1.5m extra entry declarations and 5m additional exit declarations after a hard Brexit.
One reason for any delays is uncertainty over the final shape of Brexit amid fractious negotiations between London and Brussels. [...]
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