Charlie Elphicke is MP for Dover and Deal.
My latest paper on how we can be Ready on Day One for Brexit – ‘Order at the Border’ – makes the case for one government at the border, with a single department responsible for everything. This reform would increase border security, cut tax fraud, slash bureaucracy, boost the economy and save British business over £2 billion a year.
A single department – the Department for Security and Border Taxes – would assume responsibilities that are currently scattered among 38 different arms of Government and 57 separate systems. These 38 organisations report to a wide array of different departments and Secretaries of State such as the Home Office, Treasury and Defra. This inevitably leads to confusion, muddle and duplication of effort.
This reform will also help prepare Britain for a smooth Brexit as we leave the EU – meaning we will be better able to take advantage of the opportunities Brexit presents. This is a big issue as detailed border checks are currently done on 12 million visitors to the UK. The end of EU free movement is expected to increase this number by 25.5 million to total some 37.5 million visitors. Customs declarations are currently made by 141,000 traders. This is expected to rise by 180,000 to a total of 320,000 traders. Meanwhile it is expected that the number of customs declarations would go from 60 million a year to over 300 million.
Yet this is about much more than helping Britain to cope with Brexit. There would be a greater priority on the collection of border taxes. For many years, the collection of border taxes has not been as complete as might be the case. This means billions of pounds of revenue not being taken. A new department would be in a stronger position to focus on ensuring taxes are paid – ensuring the investment more than pays for itself. For no longer will Border Force officers report to Home Secretaries who are primarily concerned with immigration rather than collecting border taxes. A new single department should be led by a Secretary of State equally concerned about collecting the cash.
Estimates in recent years by the National Audit Office have put the cost of fraud at the border as high as £1 billion. By cracking down on tax fraud, we can collect more cash to spend on public services. And we could use some of this extra cash to invest in more officers to keep our borders safer and more secure – including stepping up security at known weak spots like small ports and airfields.
One department reducing duplication of effort would cost less due to efficiencies. It would be able to focus on investing in modern digital systems – increasing security and enabling the UK’s borders to cope with the greater checks that Brexit is expected to require. It would also be much more effective. The ‘One Government at the Border’ approach has been hugely successful for such countries as Singapore, the USA and Australia. The World Bank has estimated that South Korea’s single border approach is saving businesses there nearly £2 billion a year.
Singapore is the current world leader in border management and technology. We should be ambitious and seek to build a modern border system ready to boost British trade across the globe. A more efficient border would lead to an increase in economic growth and reduce costs to British business by more than £2 billion a year.
Even HMRC’s Chief Executive, Jon Thompson, agrees. He recently told the Treasury Select Committee that “there would be a noticeable change to GDP in my opinion, because it would make it much smoother to import and export if you only had to go to one place instead of multiple different Government departments.”
Too often it seems as though the border is seen as a problem to be patched-up rather than an asset to be fully modernised. Investing now in the latest technology and highly-skilled staff, we can become a world leader in border operations – and give a multi-billion pound boost to Britain.
As we leave the European Union it’s clear we need to ensure order at the border. There is an urgent need to invest, modernise and streamline Government activities. Other countries are doing this with huge success – and so should we.