Britain's borders face chaos from Jan 1 because coronavirus has delayed work to get new systems in place once the Brexit transition period ends, the Government has been warned.
A National Audit Office report forecast "widespread disruption", partly due to Covid-19. The watchdog said officials were "reasonably confident" that infrastructure, systems and resources will be in place for the UK to be at "minimum operating capability" as the Brexit deadline hits. However, it advised that "timetables are tight".
Minimum operating capability is defined as replacing EU systems to monitor imports of goods and meet World Trade Organisation rules.
The NAO added the Government had prioritised security, safety, and the flow of people and goods over compliance, including the collection of revenue, meaning borders would be operating in a "less than optimal" way. Systems to control the estimated 6.3m goods transfers across UK borders in 2021 were flagged as a particular worry, "with a high risk traders will not be ready".
The NAO said if new systems or processes were not ready, it would disrupt imports and exports, and warned "there is little time for ports and other third parties to integrate their systems and processes with new or changed government systems".
Roads being choked with trucks heading for Channel ports such as Dover was singled out as a major concern. The Government's own worstcase planning assumes that between 40pc and 70pc of hauliers will not be ready for new EU border controls, which will mean extra administration and checks, resulting in 7,000 lorries potentially having to queue at Dover.
The NAO said the Government's plan for reducing the risk of disruption, which includes giant lorry parks and controls to stop goods trucks entering Kent, "is still developing, with various issues yet to be resolved".
Emergency measures to ensure critical products such as medicine can get into the country on extra ferries, avoiding normal Channel ports, are also proving "difficult to enact" because of coronavirus, the report said.
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, called for the Government to "focus on resolving the many outstanding issues relating to the border and develop robust contingency plans". He added: "The Jan 1 deadline is unlike any previous EU exit deadline - significant changes at the border will take place and government must be ready."