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Brexit logistics: Trucks and tribulations

When it comes to moving goods between the UK and mainland Europe in the post-Brexit world, it’s not as simple as building a new trade bridge and driving over it. 

On the UK side, there are fears that trucks will take as long as two days just to reach the Kent ferry port or enter the Channel Tunnel and the export of goods to the European mainland will be severely disrupted. 

So concerned are Ireland’s truck drivers about delays of goods moving across the ‘land bridge’ of the UK, they are urging their Government to help set up a direct daily ferry service with continental Europe.  

Disruptions are likely to occur even if the UK does secure a trade deal with the European Union. 

From January 1, just getting to Kent will require a new raft of paperwork, not to mention clearances to enter and an international driving permit to travel along the roads of mainland Europe. 

Without a Kent Access Permit, attempting to reach the port will attract a £300 fine and vehicles will be sent to new ‘lorry parks’ until they have the right documentation. 

“In theory everything has been digitalised, to make it quicker, but it’s whether those systems will be in place for the first of January.”
– Andrew Thurston

Andrew Thurston, a Customs Duty Consultant with MHA MacIntyre Hudson, says that from the first of January, when the transition period ends, the sudden reintroduction of customs declarations between the UK and EU — for the first time since 1972 — was likely to be challenging.

“That’s what is going to cause potential delays at the port and the UK and EU are both putting in procedures to try to simplify the process,” he says.

“Certainly in the UK, they’re trying to make everything electronic, so companies can pre-enter the goods they are transporting, so that they can go straight through the port waving a piece of paper. In theory everything has been digitalised, to make it quicker, but it’s whether those systems will be in place for the first of January.”

If those systems are not in place, things will rapidly break down — even according to the UK Government’s own risk assessment.

A recent letter to industry from Michael Gove, the cabinet minister in charge of Brexit, warned up to half of trucks arriving at Dover and the Channel Tunnel would not have the correct paperwork, compounding estimates from manufacturing body Make UK that 270 million new customs declarations will need to be filed each year.

“Any delays caused by inappropriate or insufficient documentation could easily cause 20 miles worth of lorries waiting to get on a ferry, so I think that’s a big concern for UK companies, especially with fresh produce coming in from Europe into the UK,” Thurston says.

“It’s also a big concern for companies because freight is time-driven. If you don’t get things to the supermarket on time, for example, you could default on your contract, and could lose a lot of money.

“That’s before you even consider the potential for customs duties on top of existing contract prices, which they can’t renegotiate.”

The UK’s Smart Freight system aims to manage the flow of trucks at the UK border and make sure consignments are cleared to proceed to the EU. 

But the system is not yet up and running. A public beta testing phase is not anticipated to start before the end of November, leaving little time for a full launch or driver training. 

The UK Government insists fines will be a last resort and it is confident that the new system will be fully operational by the new year.  

However, it is preparing for delays as long as two days during January, with queues of up to 7000 trucks long snaking back across the UK’s roads. 

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Andrew Thurston

MHA MacIntyre Hudson

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