Hauliers Say Today's Lorry Jams In Kent Could Be Common Once Brexit Kicks In
Scenes of chaotic tailbacks of lorries in Kent after France closed the border with the UK “paints a picture” of what post-transition period Brexit may look like, hauliers have warned.
Trucks have been queuing in Dover and along the M20 in Kent after all travel was banned, including human handled freight, because of the new fast-spreading coronavirus strain.
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) said it believes France and the UK will come to an agreement on how to move goods across the English Channel imminently, but today’s log-jam has highlighted the fallout when “friction” is introduced into the border crossing.
The RHA’s Paul Mummery told PoliticsHome the general public has been given a strong indication of how border structures can break down.
“Today just goes to show how fragile supply chains can be. If you put an amount of friction in, the moment you start putting problems in, for example closing borders, there are significant consequences.
“Trucks have to go somewhere... Today has really painted a picture for the country,” he said.
France ordering the closure of the border because of the new Covid strain has left drivers stranded on both sides of the Channel. Supermarkets have said their supply chains are robust, though there could be some shortages of fresh vegetables and salads.
While full border shut downs are not expected to be the norm in the future, regardless of a Brexit deal, the border arrangements are changing for truck drivers travelling to the EU and Mummery said "friction" is being inserted into the process.
From January 2021 a haulage company must ensure their driver has all the necessary customs information and documents and other paperwork for on road pre-departure inspections, at ports or train terminals and at customs posts.
There will be full customs checks and tariffs on “controlled” goods like tobacco and alcohol from January and from July onwards all goods will be subjected to customs declarations at the border and tariffs applied if necessary – though the level is unknown without a Brexit deal.
The first few days of the New Year may be relatively problem-free because businesses have been stockpiling to get through the end of the transition period, so less cross-Channel importing and exporting is likely.
However in light of the border shut down in the run up to Christmas firms may have gone through their stockpiles, which could then create problems by the middle of the month.
“The supply chain is resilient, but we are concerned longer term post-transition that the current closed border is going to have a huge impact on the supply chain in the first few weeks of January, when we will then have a frictional border.
“In the first few days it will be quiet because it’s post-Christmas but not when the volume starts increasing – then we might see issues around the unpreparedness of the government,” he said.
Some of the issues are a lorry park at Ashford potentially not being ready for January 1 to hold lorries, IT systems not being tested, and questions over whether businesses will be robust enough to deal with the new paperwork.
"Businesses are being asked to do something they haven't done before, therefore people will get things wrong. It's a perfect storm of several things we predict in January. But going back to today, it's natural we could look at the scenes in Kent and think is this something we could be seeing on a regular basis in January?" he said.
Boris Johnson said the delays are only occuring at Dover and only impact on 'human handled' freight, which is 20 percent of the total of trade departing to the EU continent. This means the vast majority of food and medicines is arriving as usual. Container-based trade can continue.
The government said it has also managed to reduce the number of queueing lorries, which at its peak was 500 vehicles.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the majority of truck drivers are European and hoping to get back to the Continent.
However there were examples of Scottish shellfish exports being held up and unlikely to make it to France in time.
There were reports today of one small company with £230,000 worth of live shellfish stuck at the border, with another firm with £500,000 worth at Dover, and an additional £750,000 ready to be despatched.
Scottish firm Lochfyne Seafarms Tweeted: "There will be Vivier trucks from all over Scotland heading in that direction, millions of pounds worth of seafood at the time of the most important market of the year the last one before Xmas, Jesus if BREXIT wasn’t going to put us out of business by Tuesday this week we will be."