PCS chief Serwotka: borders staff expect no-deal Brexit chaos

PCS boss says members report lack of preparedness for cliff-edge exit from European Union in March

Mark Serwotka Credit: BBC/CSW

By Jim Dunton

16 Nov 2018

The leader of the civil service’s largest union has warned that members who work in borders and immigration are reporting a wholesale lack of preparation for a no-deal Brexit.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, made the suggestion during a fraught edition of the BBC’s Question Time debate programme last night.

After a day of political strife that saw two cabinet ministers resign over prime minister Theresa May’s draft EU withdrawal agreement, Serwotka questioned the logic of politicians who still supported the "no deal is better than a bad deal" mantra.


“If we leave with a no-deal Brexit, which the government said was better than a bad deal… they’ve made no preparations for it whatsoever,” he claimed.

Serwotka was challenged by fellow panellist Claire Perry, minister of state for energy and clean growth at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who said “that’s not true”.

But the PCS general secretary said his understanding was based on the experience of frontline civil servants.

“I represent the staff who know,” he said. “Currently at our ports and our airports and our borders, we only check 10% of all freight coming in. All people coming in as EU citizens come in through automatic gates at the airports; they are struggling now at the last minute to recruit thousands of people.

"If we leave with no-deal, the M20 and the motorway system will be a lorry park for weeks on end.

“They are totally unprepared for no-deal because Theresa May in these two years has made no preparation for it because she told the people that she would negotiate a good deal.”

Serwotka went on to criticise May’s draft agreement and called for a general election.

The Home Office said extensive work to prepare for a no-deal Brexit had been “well under way” for almost two years and that robust plans were in place to ensure the UK border continued to operate from the day the UK leaves the European Union.

A spokesperson said the department was continuing to assess how the ongoing Brexit negotiations would impact on the workforce and capabilities required in Border Force, and that it would “always ensure” it had the resources and workforce needed to keep the border secure.

“As we prepare to leave the EU, it is vital that we continue to ensure operational resilience at the border,” they said.

“That’s why we’re recruiting approximately 600 Border Force officers to prepare for the day we leave the EU, in addition to the 300 officers which will be deployed by the end of the year.”

The spokesperson said the Home Office was considering a number of options for the unlikely event that the nation reached March 2019 without a deal, and would set out more information shortly.

The Home Office is also due to publish a white paper on the future immigration system later this year.

This story was updated at 17:10 on 16 November 2018 to include a response from the Home Office

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