The government is expecting “significant” border delays, meaning lorries backing up through Kent, at the end of the Brexit transition period. Even if a deal is struck with the EU.
More than two-thirds of hauliers will head for Dover without the paperwork needed to get through customs. That’s the “prudent” assumption the government is now making.
At the moment, there is a free flow of goods to and from the continent because the UK is still, for the moment, in the EU’s Customs Union.
That changes at the end of this year when the Brexit transition period ends.
The government has long rejected remaining part of the Customs Union; Additional checks will be necessary even if a Free Trade Agreement is struck.
Around 10,000 lorries depart from the Dover ferry ports and the nearby Eurotunnel terminal each day.
Once the UK is outside the Customs Union, hauliers will need to have completed multiple sets of paperwork before they will be allowed to depart.
What if they don’t?
“Businesses have additional time to prepare, but also that their ability to do so has been impacted by the parallel challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.
At this stage it is therefore prudent to assume that overall border readiness could be at levels similar to those anticipated for October 2019.”
Operation Brock consultation, Department for Transport, 3 August 2020
Before October 2019, in preparation for a possible no-deal Brexit, the Department for Transport estimated that up to 70 per cent of hauliers would not come prepared, according to the National Audit Office.
In such a scenario, the flow of traffic across the English Channel might be halved, leaving lorries backing up in their thousands in Kent.
The infamous, Operation Yellowhammer, predicted that lorries could be waiting more than two days to leave the country, running the risk of causing rotting cargo, empty shelves and untold economic damage.
The consultation document the government has now published, proposes that lorry loads of new born chicks and seafood might be allowed to queue-jump.
But that would leave behind flowers, vegetables, medicines and many other vital and time-limited components which flow through the ports.
The government has previously said it hopes to see trade flow relatively smoothly, but this latest “prudent to assume” consultation suggests otherwise.
Carrot and stick
To try and avoid, or reduce the disruption, the government wants to cajole industry to prepare and adapt.
To make it easier for lorry drivers, an IT system is being developed to digitalise and, ideally, streamline some of the paperwork.
Although the Department of Transport accepts that in itself a “post-deployment IT failure in 2021” would create a new backlog headache.
Hauliers who come unprepared will run the risk of £300 fines and even their load impounded.
It will get better
“Significant levels of disruption to outbound traffic are unlikely to extend much beyond the middle of 2021”, the consultation says.
But goes on to propose the measures to deal with queues of lorries will be kept in place for 11 months “in the event that disruption continues for longer than anticipated”.