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What will Brexit deliver?

Lorries will need a permit to enter Kent and queues 7,000-trucks-long could clog up roads when Brexit is finally completed

Mark Moran
12 October 2020
Lorries by Wolfgang Hasselmann (Unsplash)
Lorries by Wolfgang Hasselmann (Unsplash)


Truck drivers will need a permit to enter Kent once the Brexit transition period ends. The government is also planning to build a network of new lorry parks across Britain to hold vehicles having to negotiate more stringent paperwork checks when arriving in Europe when UK leaves the customs union and the single market on 1 January.

The Kent Access Permit (KAP) system could be enforced by police or using cameras monitoring the number plates of vehicles entering the county at points such as the Dartford Crossing bringing freight from Essex.

Drivers of lorries weighing more than 7.5 tonnes will need to apply for the permits online and show that they have all the paperwork they need to ferry goods to Europe.

In a letter sent to the freight sector last month, minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove set out the government’s “reasonable worst-case scenario” planning for when the UK leaves the single market and customs union rules at New Year. The scenario envisages just half of big businesses and 20% of small businesses would be ready for the strict application of new EU requirements at the border. Gove, warned that queues up to 7,000-trucks-long could clog up roads around the port of Dover and Channel Tunnel.

Border disruption could happen whether or not the UK secures a trade deal with the European Union. This is because EU is expected to impose full goods controls on the UK, stopping all freight without the correct documentation at the end of the transition period on 1 January.

Speaking in the House of Commons on 23 September, Gove told MPs: “In those circumstances that could mean between only 30% and 60% of laden HGVs would arrive at the border with the necessary formalities completed for the goods on board. They’d therefore be turned back by the French border authorities, clogging the Dover to Calais crossing.”

Gove said it could lead to delays of up to two days for drivers waiting to cross the Channel. Although he said those queues were likely to subside after businesses learned from seeing their cargo denied access to the Continent. A similar set of projections were made for a no-deal Brexit a year ago as part of what was known as Operation Yellowhammer.

The Kent Access Permit system would be enforced by police and ANPR cameras. The KAP is intended to ensure drivers have all the paperwork they need, he said. The government has also been consulting on an updated version of Operation Brock, the system used to manage freight vehicles heading to the Channel Ports in Kent.

The government is also developing a Smart Freight System, a web portal operating a red, amber and green traffic light system for hauliers. Only those given the green light, after passing a documentations test, will be given a KAP. A briefing document drawn up by the government’s Border and Protocol Delivery Group reveals the system will not go into a public beta testing phase until the end of November, leaving little time to launch it before
1 January.

Labour’s shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, Rachel Reeves, said: “It is incredible that ministers are only now admitting to their plans to arrest British truckers for entering Kent without new travel passports. With just over three months to go, how are businesses meant to prepare amid this Conservative carnival of incompetence?’”

The reasonable worst-case
The “reasonable worst-case scenario” report drawn up by the Border and Protocol Delivery Group was presented to a meeting of the XO (exit operations) committee chaired by cabinet minister Michael Gove for decisions on the next stages of development in the border operating model, the goods vehicle management system and so-called “smart freight” software designed to regulate the flow of traffic into Kent and guard against congestion.

The delivery group report said that between 30-50% of trucks crossing the Channel wold not be ready for the new regulations coming into force on 1 January 2021, while a “lack of capacity to hold unready trucks at French ports” could reduce the flow of traffic across the Dover Strait to 60-80% of normal levels.
“It is estimated a maximum queue of 6,500 HGVs may develop in January,” the report said. “Disruption could be lower in the initial days of January but we would expect sustained disruption to worsen over the first two weeks as demand builds.”

Delays will impact on people returning to work after the Christmas and New Year holidays. The disruption is assumed to build in the first two weeks of January, and could last three months, or longer should France rigorously apply Schengen passport checks on hauliers at Dover and the Channel Tunnel.

The delivery group said: “Considering demand levels in the first week of February, it is estimated that if readiness does not improve by then, queues could reach a length of 7,000 HGVs. In each case it is estimated that HGVs could take two days to reach the front of the queue.” The report added: “Both imports and exports could be disrupted to a similar extent.”

The government says the scenario is not a prediction but an illustration of what could be reasonably expected. A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “As a responsible government we continue to make extensive preparations for a wide range of scenarios, including the reasonable worst case. This is not a forecast or prediction of what will happen but rather a stretching scenario. It reflects a responsible government ensuring we are ready for all eventualities.”

Lorry parking plans
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has given himself powers to build truck parks across England to avoid chaotic queues at ports when the United Kingdom finally leaves the European Union. A statutory instrument Town and Country Planning (Border Facilities and Infrastructure) (EU Exit) (England) Special Development Order 2020 enables the government to start construction in council areas without the approval of local officials.

The government has started constructing holding facilities for lorries in Kent that will be used to park goods vehicles that have the correct paperwork to enter the EU. The holding pens will be a key part of Britain’s plans to avoid border delays from 1 January, when full customs controls will be imposed on goods travelling from the UK, whether or not it reaches a trade deal with the bloc.

The Border and Protocol Delivery Group report also calls for advice centres to be set up across the country, with 39 sites identified at truck stop and service stations on all main motorways including the M6, M40, M1 and M20. These centres would need to be equipped with printers to help hauliers who do not have the right documentation prepare for their onward journey to ports in Kent, Portsmouth, Holyhead and Felixstowe among others. The document notes to the Department for Transport that work to provide the advice centres is currently “unfunded”, with a parallel Treasury bid for £18.5m still in development.

The document recommends that a Border Impact Centre (BIC) is set up by 31 December to help national and local authorities manage the change in border-destined traffic. The document also explores Kent authorities co-locating with France’s Lille Crisis Cell in order to jointly mitigate potential chaos on the roads.

In response to emergency legislation passed by government to allow for the allocation of a reported 29 potential sites for lorry parks across the UK, Chris Yarsley, Logistics UK’s policy manager for road infrastructure, said: “Logistics UK supports the development of suitable infrastructure to assist with border readiness; these sites are essential to keep disruption on the UK’s roads to a minimum post-transition period, and for keeping trade moving as smoothly as possible across borders. We have been urging the government to ensure that drivers will have access to facilities, such as toilets and showers, if they are to be held in place for some time and are therefore pleased to see that the Order includes a provision for welfare facilities.”

However, Logistics UK is urging the government to build the lorry parks in locations close to road networks and that they are fully accessible for commercial vehicles, away from unsuitable roads and low bridges. While the lorry parks are likely to be a temporary solution as new systems, processes and demands are embedded post-Brexit, Logistics UK said it is important that the authorities remain mindful of local businesses and residents, with road disruption to be kept to a minimum. Yarsley added: “The government has to ensure that the sites are staffed with qualified officials who have the means and the authority to get a vehicle border ready if the driver does not have the full paperwork required; this will be essential to keep traffic moving as quickly as possible and protecting supply chains from further disruption.”

Logistics UK is urging its members to adopt the new processes they will need to use. However, it says, firms need early access to both UK and EU systems so that they can conduct testing and training before 1 January. Elisabeth de Jong, policy director, said: “Logistics UK has long warned government of the potential for border delays after the UK leaves the EU, and while there is still time to put mitigations in place to avoid them, it will be a huge challenge for government and industry to achieve.”

Blame shifting
Michael Gove has been urging UK traders to get ready now for new border formalities that could help mitigate the disruption. He has told the freight industry that this needs to happen irrespective of whether or not there is a deal in the UK-EU trade negotiations. However, the freight industry has warned that putting in place the measures needed to avoid border delays will be a challenge for government and industry. Hauliers are concerned that they are being cast as the “fall guys” for delays and disruption likely in January. Tensions are rising, with a recent meeting between the freight industry and government being described as a “washout” by the Road Haulage Association (RHA).

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “For years we’ve been warning government that there will be delays at ports but with 70 working days to go until the end of the transition period they’re still not engaging with us to come up with the solutions. The answers to the questions that we raised in our letter to Mr Gove and during a subsequent roundtable meeting on Thursday 17 September still remain unanswered; and for the industry on which the entire nation depends for maintaining the flow of goods across borders, the future looks very bleak indeed. We described last month’s meeting between industry stakeholders and Mr Gove’s team as a total washout. The government’s promises that the UK will be ready for business on 1 January are just a whitewash, and right now it appears that traders and haulage operators are being left to carry the can.”

Should there be no trade deal agreed, UK hauliers would have to rely on special permits rationed by the Department for Transport. Hauliers have also raised the possibility that the UK will have to sign up to EU rules limiting driver hours, in order to get access to EU roads.

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