auliers say they are braced for “chaos” later this week as they warned of a shortage of customs agents at UK borders.
Crossings to the Continent have so far been described as “normal”, with only a handful of lorries being turned away, just four days into Britain’s new trading regime with the EU.
However, Rod McKenzie, from the Road Haulage Association, said the beginning of January is the quietest time of the year at Dover and there was “potential for quite a bit of chaos” when trucks return to normal levels.
He said around half a dozen lorries had been turned away because of reasons including the French insistence on a Covid test, not having the right paperwork, and some not having the Kent Access Permit.
He told the Standard: “If you take half a dozen as a proportion of a few hundred trucks and multiply that up to a few thousand, you can see that the potential for quite a bit of chaos is there.
“Is it going to be like it was before Christmas with all those massive queues at Dover?
“I think that’s unlikely because what will happen under the system that has been devised is that lorries simply won’t get clearance to move.
“So what we might see instead is chaos in the depot which is invisible…as opposed to chaos at the border.
“The effect of it is the same because it’s a disruption to the supply chain, quite possibly at large scale.
“So if thousands of trucks are not leaving their depot it means the export business is not functioning – which is bad for our trade – and on their return journeys those trucks are often carrying goods back for us either for factories or for shops and supermarkets. It’s a nervous time, a nail-biting week in terms of seeing how the new system works.”
Mr McKenzie also described the new form-filling system as an “incredible faff” and warned there was a lack of customs agents in the UK to help.
He added: “Because we’ve trading frictionless for these forty years or so, all the customs agents that used to exist in Dover and other ports have gone out of business or retired. So we are seriously short of customs agents in Britain to do this work.
“We are hearing reports of traders being simply unable to find customs agents to do their paperwork and that is really stressful.
“If you’re not used to this terrifying form and you can’t find an agent to do it for you, you’re going to fill it in and make some mistakes and your lorry will be held up. This couldn’t be a more stressful beginning for 2021 for international traders.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We recognise that traders and hauliers have done an enormous amount to get ready for the end of the transition period, but we expect some disruption as we adjust to our new relationship with the EU.
“To minimise disruption, we encourage HGV drivers to ensure they have the correct documentation in place and proof of a negative COVID test result before travelling to Kent, dated within 72 hours of departure. These will be provided free of charge to hauliers at Information Advice Sites, or through a list of private tests accepted by France.”