Thanks for all those data-flow warnings, UK.gov. Now let's talk about your own Brexit prep. Yep, just as we thought

Senior officials briefed on public bodies that still need data milled or stored in EU

editorial only image of Whitehall. Pic Daniel Gale/Shutterstock

Senior government officials have reportedly been warned that public bodies are not prepared for the implications on crucial data transfers if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal.

According to The Times, three-quarters of 63 public bodies surveyed between October and December said they rely on data stored or processed in the European Union.

The problem is that, if the UK leaves the bloc without a Withdrawal Agreement in place, transfers from the EU to the UK would have to cease, or carry on, but under new terms.

The impact of this has been discussed at length by those advising politicians, and the government has itself issued a number of notes urging businesses to make arrangements for data flows in a no-deal scenario.

The report stated that some 43 per cent of the bodies surveyed said not having access to the data would have a "high or very high impact on public services".

However, the newspaper – citing internal sources and briefing documents – suggested that public bodies had yet to nail down contingency plans.

Senior officials had been shown documents that listed "dozens" of government departments and public bodies that were holding personal data on servers in the EU, mainly in Ireland.

One such body named is NHS Blood and Transplant, which has personal data stored in Ireland, and may be unable to access patient information after 29 March.

Post-Brexit IT systems not quiiiite ready yet, minister

Meanwhile, officials were said to have been warned that IT systems required for Brexit are facing major delays. This includes work on VAT systems from UK tax body Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), and an online portal has not yet been implemented.

An HMRC spokesman told the paper the government was taking steps to keep VAT administration "as close as possible to the status quo" to minimise disruption.

HMRC's permanent secretaries have told MPs repeatedly in the run-up to Brexit that they are facing huge amounts of work, and readily admitted that some systems will just not be ready.

For instance, building the systems for the Northern Ireland backstop could take more than two years, while efforts to replace its outdated customs IT system have been pushed back.

Similarly, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said it was working on interim solutions for 29 March "as a contingency" in case its various IT systems – which Defra has yet to finish testing – encounter "blockers or defects".

"Decision points have been identified for each system when contingencies will be invoked if necessary to ensure effective service delivery," said perm sec Claire Moriarty in a letter (PDF) to MPs on the Public Accounts Committee.

The letter followed a report from the PAC in November that criticised the department for having failed to complete testing on six critical IT systems.

At the time, the committee noted it had been "difficult [for Defra] to inform stakeholders how to use IT systems that have not yet been fully developed".

In her letter, Moriarty said: "We have identified key communication milestones and are developing messaging with specific calls to action for IT readiness in each project's communication plan." ®

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