Brexit border disruption ‘inevitable’ says Gove

25 November 2020

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has admitted there will “inevitably be some disruption” at the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December. 

Gove, who was speaking at Logistics UK’s Get Ready for Brexit Forum, told industry professionals “it's always the case as you move towards a new set of procedures that not everything will be all right on the night”.

He said the government had been working with the Kent Resilience Forum and counterparts in France to “eliminate as many risks as possible”, ahead of the end of the transition period. 

He said: “The one thing that I can't do is determine what's going to happen on the other side of the border. We know from the approach that the EU has taken and the approach that the [European] Commission generally takes that their view is rules are rules, and that when it comes to the checks that will be applied, they are going to apply them. 

“I hope not, in an overly rigid way, but there's certainly going to be the case that we cannot expect a sort of laissez faire or flexible approach.” 

The minister added: “Everything that we're doing is essentially saying to businesses 'don't send your goods across the short straits unless you are confident that they're compliant with the rules'. What we don't want to have is for hauliers in good faith, making the journey with goods that are not compliant and finding themselves in Calais and being sent back.”

Gove said while there were mitigation measures in place in case of disruption, he believed some firms will hold off transporting goods in the immediate aftermath.

“What I suspect will be the case is that there will be some businesses that will hold off actually for the first couple of weeks after the transition period and will meet orders and do what their customers want later in the year, because people will want to see how the system works initially,” he said. 

“My expectation is there will be a slightly lower level of traffic in the immediate aftermath after 1 January. Then traffic will rise, and there will be some disruption inevitably as we adjust to the new system, and then we'll settle to the new normal.” 

Gove’s comments came as it was reported five-mile-long queues for the Eurotunnel built up on the M20 in Kent earlier this week due to French authorities trialling post-Brexit boarding systems, according to The Guardian

Earlier this year, the UK government unveiled its ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ which could see queues of up to 7,000 port-bound trucks in Kent and delays of up to two days.

Last month, CIPS economist John Glen predicted that customs officials may “lift the gate” and allow goods into the UK regardless of whether they have the correct documents in a bid to tackle lorry queues.

During the Spending Review shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds criticised chancellor Rishi Sunak for failing to mention Brexit.

“In less than 40 days, we're due to leave the transition period. Yet the chancellor didn't even mention that in his speech,” she said.

“There's still no trade deal. So does the chancellor truly believe that his government is prepared and that he's done enough to help those businesses that will be heavily affected?”

In his speech Sunak warned the “economic emergency” caused by Covid-19 had only just begun with the UK economy is expected to shrink by 11.5% this year.

The UK’s borrowing forecast is also set to hit £394bn this year, equivalent to 19% of GDP, the highest ever in peacetime.

Sunak confirmed that public sector workers would have their pay frozen next year, with an exception for some NHS staff and those earning less than £24,000.

The review revealed a total of £18bn would be spent on Covid testing, PPE and vaccines and a new £4bn “levelling up” fund is to be established to finance local infrastructure improvement projects. 

Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at Logistics UK said: “Upgrades to our railway network and the 'biggest ever investment' in new roads are both essential to improving the competitiveness of our economy by enabling freight to move smoothly around the country, and across borders. 

“We are hoping to find that the Green Book [Treasury] guidelines used to make key investment decisions now properly value the contribution that freight makes to the UK’s economic performance nation-wide.”

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