Employing and training several thousand new customs officers is not something that can be done overnight. According to the National Career Service the usual route to becoming a customs officer is to begin as an Administrative Assistant , Assistant Officer or Administrative Officer within the service and then to progress up the career ladder. Even so:
“Starting as an administrative assistant… you’ll need 2 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C); an assistant officer, for which you’ll need 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) including English and maths. To start as an officer, you’ll usually need 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) including English and maths [and] A levels (or equivalent).”
Alternatively, potential candidates can sit an internal civil service exam of a similar standard.
What has this got to do with Brexit?
Whatever else Brexit may be about; the single thing that the UK government has focused on is curbing immigration. Moreover, the many “hard Brexiteers” on the government benches are pushing for an exit from the Single Market and the Customs Union – something that a negotiation failure would also force upon the government. So whatever else we might expect the UK government to be doing in the run up to Brexit, employing sufficient border and customs officers (together with the administrative and managerial staff needed to service them) would, you would have thought, have been happening almost immediately Article 50 was triggered. However, as anthropologist and campaigner David Graeber observes:
“I don’t think that they were ever serious about [Brexit]. I think that they were just trying to distract attention. People pointed out that most of the things that they would be doing if they were really serious they haven’t done, they haven’t done anything to hire new customs officials, they haven’t done anything to build the building or even buy the land to put the buildings on what they would have to have if they had a hard border.”
As the old saying goes, “failing to plan means planning to fail.” At the very least, Graeber’s observation points to a prolonged “transitional period” after March 2019, in which the UK government scrabbles around desperately trying to find suitably qualified employees to fill a raft of essential vacancies for jobs that either used to be done by EU officials or that were unnecessary within the Single Market. It is more likely, however, that the UK government has simply not begun to think this far ahead – even though the inability to police Britain’s post-Brexit borders severely weakens the UK government’s negotiating position. Either way, as the full complexity of the practical “nuts and bolts” of Brexit become apparent, it is very likely that the pro-Remain UK Parliament will simply vote down any deal that does not result in Britain remaining in the EU.
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