Tuesday November 24, 2020
23-09-20

UK govt warns of 'queues of 7,000 trucks' after Brexit transition ends

Michael Gove <p>(Source: UK government)
Michael Gove

(Source: UK government)

The British government has warned of massive queues of trucks near the port of Dover from next January if freight transport operators fail to prepare for new post-Brexit border controls, according to a leaked letter addressed to logistics groups.

The leaked letter comes as the EU and the UK resume informal talks aimed at reaching a post-Brexit trade deal. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a deadline of October 15 for a deal to be struck.

The Transition Period, which has kept the UK aligned to the EU's single market and customs union rules in order to allow trade to flow smoothly after its withdrawal from the bloc on January 31, 2020, expires at the end of this year unless both sides agree to an extension - an eventuality ruled out by the Prime Minister.

Three months of disruption?

In the Cabinet Office letter, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, who is tasked with preparing for a No Deal outcome, outlined the government's “reasonable worst-case scenario” planning, including a warning that between 30-50% of trucks crossing the Channel will not be ready for the new regulations coming into force on January 1, 2021. In addition, a “lack of capacity to hold unready trucks at French ports” could reduce the flow of traffic across the strait to 60-80% of normal levels.

The letter underlined that "this could lead to maximum queues of 7,000 port bound trucks in Kent and associated maximum delays of up to two days". It warned that the disruption could last up to three months as alternative routes are sought and supply chains adapt to the new processes and regulations in place.

In the letter, Gove also warned that there would be changes regardless of a deal or not. "Simply put, if traders, both in the UK and EU, have not completed the right paperwork, their goods will be stopped when entering the EU and disruption will occur. It is essential that traders act now and get ready for new formalities."

Earlier this month, the British government already gave itself powers to build lorry parks in up to 29 different parts of the country to deal with possible large numbers of trucks waiting to leave the UK but which do not have the necessary documents.

Freight companies complain about no information

Ironically, in recent weeks, the logistics groups to whom the leaked letter was addressed have accused the government of failing to provide greater clarity and detail on the new systems relating to cross-border trade that are set to come into force from January 1 next year  and of it not doing enough to remove the threat of post-Brexit border delays.

Reacting to the Cabinet Office letter to the logistics sector, the British International Freight Association's (BIFA) Director General, Robert Keen said: “The Government has received repeated warnings from all sides of the supply chain that neither businesses involved in trade between the EU and the UK, nor the freight and logistics sector that physically handles and manages that trade, is ready for the new procedures that will be in place from January 1 2021.

“With just over 14 weeks to go before the end of the Brexit Transition Period, traders and logistics providers are still waiting for so much information and clarity from the government and are shocked by the lack of consistency in Government policy, systems planning and procedures.”

Keen continued: “According to the media coverage, Mr Gove says it is essential that traders act now and get ready for new formalities. BIFA says give our members all the information they need, the resources they require and systems that actually work, and they will be more than able to do what is necessary. But don’t start pointing the finger of blame in our direction when you have still to provide all of the tools to do the job.”

Earlier this month, a survey by the British International Freight Association (BIFA) found that most of its members fear they will have insufficient staff for the extra customs-related work required and believe government guidance needs to be clearer and more accurate.

Nearly two thirds - 64% of respondents - felt they would not have sufficient staff to undertake the additional customs-related work that will be required from January 1, 2021. This proportion has risen significantly since a similar survey was conducted in May.

The BIFA Director General said he believed that the results of the trade association's latest survey of members clearly demonstrate that much greater clarity is needed on government plans for the border.

“The results indicate that the recent publication of the Border Operating Model and Moving Goods Under the Northern Ireland Protocol have not greatly assisted members’ understanding of procedures regarding imports and exports between the EU and UK, and GB and Northern Ireland, respectively,” Keen said.

In a general question on their understanding of the UK government’s plans for the border after the end of the Transition Period, more than half of the respondents said that they either had no knowledge, or what knowledge they do have needs improving.

In regards to the Border Operating Model, while 70% of respondents said they understand the Customs procedures required to import goods into the UK from the EU at the end of the Transition Period, fewer than half said that was the case in regards to Safety and Security Declarations. This was also the case with respondents that are involved in the import of live animals, and/or products of animal origin, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.

The results were broadly similar for procedures to be followed for export movements from the UK to EU, although 79% said they have no understanding of import procedures in individual EU Member States regarding export movements from the UK to EU.

SourceBIFA, UK media, CEP -Research
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