Tories accept we may need 50,000 new customs agents after Brexit

Brexit is set to trigger a red tape explosion after the government accepted we may need 50,000 new customs agents.

A source admitted the vast figure – almost half the 114,000 customs officers employed across the EU – was "not far off" the total that could be needed to fill out forms from 1 January 2021.

The 50,000 figure was produced by the Road Haulage Association, which estimates UK firms will need to fill out 200million extra customs declarations each year thanks to trade restrictions with the EU.

Customs agents – who are private professionals, not government staff – generally get through 4,000 declarations a year (20 per day), so 50,000 staff are needed, the RHA claimed.

Chief executive Richard Burnett told the Mirror: "It's a bit like filling out your tax return. If you don't know how to fill out your declarations you have to go to a customs broker or agent to do the work for you."

Now the total has been put to both Downing Street and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove – and neither denied it.

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Mr Gove was asked by Labour MP Justin Madders if it would be feasible to recruit and train 50,000 people in six months.

The Cabinet Office minister replied: "Yes, it is, and the Government stand behind that."

A source close to Michael Gove later said the figure of 50,000 customs agents is "not far off".

Downing Street stressed the figure of 50,000 agents refers to private employees, not government recruits.

But a No10 spokesman added: "Businesses will need to prepare to submit customs declarations as we leave the EU's customs union and single market at the end of the year.

"Many will choose to use customs agents.

"The government has already made a total of £34million available to help customs agents scale-up, train staff and improve IT capabilities."

Mr Madders said it takes three months to train up a customs officer and details of a trade deal may only be available in September.

He told the Mirror: "There's going to be a hell of an issue with phasing all this, assuming we can find enough people who are competent and available to fill the gaps. It's a massive logistical challenge for the government.

"It's not what was advertised during the referendum – then it was all about reducing red tape. Now this could put a cost on British industry that's not currently there.

"I think we're heading for chaos at the end of the year unless there's some particularly decisive action taken by Gove."

Lib Dem business spokeswoman Sarah Olney said: “Not only is the Tory Government failing to defend free trade in their pursuit of a hard Brexit, but their promise to cut red tape for British business has been revealed to be completely bogus. 

"The Conservatives are building a mountain of Brexit paperwork on the shoulders of British business."

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