Cabinet minister Michael Gove told hauliers to prepare for queues at ports at the end of the Brexit transition period © AFP/Getty Images
Cabinet minister Michael Gove told hauliers to prepare for queues at ports at the end of the Brexit transition period © AFP/Getty Images

How to avoid Brexit queues of 7,000 trucks

23 September 2020

The UK government has been warned not to “make villains” of the logistics sector after a leaked document warned of possible queues of 7,000 lorries at the end of the Brexit transition period.

Robert Keen, director general at British International Freight Association (BIFA), said he was “shocked” by the lack of planning by the government, which had received “repeated warnings from all sides of the supply chain” that the sector is not ready for the new procedures.

In a leaked letter seen by BBC News, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove warned exporters could face “maximum queues of 7,000 port-bound trucks in Kent and associated maximum delays of up to two days”.

The letter, which outlined the government's “reasonable worst-case scenario” planning, said both imports and exports could be disrupted “to a similar extent” from 1 January 2021.

Gove told hauliers that “it is essential that traders act now and get ready for new formalities”.

Keen accused the government of “making villains of the key workers who have been tackling the impact of the pandemic on the UK’s supply chains”.

He said: “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.

“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.”

Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at Logistics UK, said it would be a “huge challenge” for the government and industry to put mitigations in place to avoid border delays in time.

“The ability of traders to complete and provide the correct paperwork will be key to ensuring the continued smooth passage of goods through the UK’s supply chain, and we are urging businesses exporting to the EU to install and understand the systems they will need to use in time for the 1 January 2021 deadline. 

“It is also incumbent on the government to ensure logistics businesses have details of and access to the UK’s own logistics systems [...] in good time so that adequate training and testing can be carried out.”

De Jong shared her advice on the preparations firms can made now that aren’t reliant on a trade deal being reached:

1. Ensure import and export paperwork is ready

All importers and export traders will need to have paperwork and systems ready, “whatever the outcome of the political negotiations”, she said. 

“These include applying for a GB Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number which is needed before any goods can be moved, and knowing the commodity code and customs value of the goods, which are all needed to make a customs declaration and calculate duties.”

 2. Train on IT systems now

“Hauliers will need to understand and be able to use at least eight new IT systems to make roll-on roll-off trade move efficiently,” de Jong said. 

“There are four separate systems required by the UK government and one for each of Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. All will take time to install and learn and should not be left to the last minute.”

3. Consider the details

There are other areas that may seem innocuous but could trip up the very best intentions of traders to maintain a seamless supply chain, de Jong warned.  

“Businesses need to ask themselves have they considered how they will make declarations to HMRC systems, and whether they will employ an agent. It is also important to consider whether they can, and would benefit from, using any available simplifications or deferred customs declarations for standard goods,” she said. 

“All this takes time and needs to be factored into the planning process – leaving it to the last minute could be problematic at best.”

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