Most of the technology the United Kingdom would need to police its borders in the event of a no-deal Brexit is still being developed and is unlikely to be ready if required, according to a new report from the department that monitors government spending.
The National Audit Office, which is also known as the NAO, said in its assessment that six of the eight IT systems that would be needed if a hard border is reestablished are incomplete.
And the NAO also said in its analysis released on Wednesday that the UK's businesses are woefully ill-prepared for interfacing with the new computer systems, even if the technology happens to be ready for the UK's scheduled exit from the European Union on March 29.
Meg Hillier, a Labour Party member of Parliament who chairs the House of Commons' cross-party public accounts committee, told the Guardian newspaper the report raises serious questions about whether the UK would be able to cope with a no-deal Brexit.
"It is alarming that six of the eight critical IT systems needed are in danger of not being ready in time and that government assesses readiness of traders as one of its most significant risks," the paper quoted her as saying.
She told the Belfast Telegraph: "The NAO's memorandum shows that, with the clock ticking down, there remain serious questions about whether the UK will be prepared at the border if there is no deal and what this would mean for individuals and businesses."
The eight computer systems will only be needed if the UK and the EU fail to agree a close post-Brexit trading arrangement that ensures the continuation of the current soft border. Politicians in the UK are still trying to decide what type of relationship they want the UK to have with the EU after Britain leaves the bloc.
Several government departments are developing IT systems, including HM Revenue and Customs, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs,the Department for International Trade, and the Food Standards Agency.
The systems would be used to monitor and regulate such things as the importation of regulated plants, animals, and food.
The NAO report said businesses that export to Europe have been slow to find out how they will be required to interface with the new computer systems in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
"A survey of external readiness commissioned by government in December 2018 found that 31 percent of businesses cited lack of knowledge as a barrier preventing preparedness, and that 50 percent of small businesses were yet to take action to prepare for no deal," the report concluded.
A government spokesperson said the UK had made progress on preparing for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, and noted that some of the additional checks that would be required at the border in such an eventuality are being phased in to minimize disruption.
The government has said it plans to hire an additional 900 uniformed border officers to help deal with the additional workload expected after the UK leaves the EU.
In other Brexit-related news on Thursday, Conservative MP George Eustice left the government led by Prime Minister Theresa May over May's promise to let MPs vote in Mid-March on possibly delaying Brexit beyond the previously-set March 29 date.