Post Brexit customs gridlock could choke UK

Published: 13 April 2017

Post Brexit customs gridlock could choke UK
The shipping industry has warned reports that the UK is in the middle of “an absolute catastrophe” if nothing is done to resolve the “frictionless and seamless” border at the ports across the UK, they specifically mentioned Dover.
 
The UK Chamber of Shipping represents over 160 freight ships and tankers as well as cruise liners. They have called on the governments in the EU to grasp the challenge, mentioning that it will be a major problem for the UK as well as ports in Holland, Belgium and France which will have issues with securing borders if the UK’s security is not resolved.
 
“I think the UK government gets it, but I am not so sure other countries do,” Chief Executive Officer of the chamber, Guy Platten stated.
 
“It is a massive problem that we need to get solved. It is in the political gift to have a frictionless or not have a frictionless border. It is a human construct,” he continued.
 
During a media briefing last Wednesday, it was discussed that the issue isn’t the prospect of tariffs being introduced if the UK decides to leave the European Customs Union as this could all be completed electronically. The main issue discussed was in regards to custom checks on either side of the borders between the UK and other continents.
 
Mr Platten also said Dublin would grind to a stop if custom checks were suddenly introduced at Dublin Port or Holyhead within Wales, handling around 400,000 trucks per year delivering loads to suppliers all across the the UK and the continent.
 
With many members of the freight and haulage industry as well as Eurotunnel warning earlier in the year that ports like Dover, the biggest port in the UK could face huge gridlocks spreading up to range of 30 miles if custom checks are introduced to the UK and Ireland once the Brexit process is completed.
 
With Dover handling 2.6 million trucks per year with Eurotunnel managing another 1.6 million at its Le Shuttle gateway a few miles inland.
 
During Summer 2015, the French ferry workers’ strike caused more than 7,000 lorries to be backed up on the motorway almost as far as Maidstone. With over 16,000 trucks a day using dover, the potential risk of a repeat of this event is inevitable.
 
Non-EU trucks at the moment have to go through customs checks in Dover and it can take 20 minutes for paperwork to be cleared for each vehicle. If there are problems with VAT or random customs checks, the truck can be delayed for hours, days or weeks.
 
“It can take up to an hour for a truck now, multiply that by 8,000 a day (the number of lorries on a slow day) and you can see what happens. It is going to be an absolute disaster for the ports and for our sector as well,” said Platten.
 
Customs expert: Michael Lux spoke with the Guardian during February and stated that an elegent solutions would be handling customs checks in Calais where there is much more space, minimising the problem but this would also need a political response from the government.
 
Plattern stated ports like Calais, Zeebrugge in Belgium and Dublin are a potential part of the solution.
 “We don’t want anyone to win or lose in the Brexit negotiations because we trade on both sides,” Plattern told reports.
 
Passenger ferries would also receive heavy delays. Plattern said operators like Brittany Ferries, whose business relies on the UK for 80% of its traffic, were growing concerned along with P&O Ferries, Stena Line and logistics firm DFDS.
 
Platten suggested a solution could be custom checks “at the point or dispatch or point of sale” but there is no other model model like Dover-Calais that the government could take inspiration from.
 
A frictionless and seamless border is predicated on an electronic system that would pre-clear “trusted traders” in and out of the border to the UK.
 
10 days ago it was revealed HM Customs are not sure that a new electronic system can be delivered at this point, or even in time for Brexit. Some influential MPs have warned there could be a fivefold rise in custom checks at Dover and additional ports from 60 million to 300 million following the UK’s departure from the European Union.
 
HMRC admitted in correspondence to the Treasury select committee that it was no longer sure it can deliver a new customs declaration system for 2019. Platten has predicted that cargo and passenger ferry sailings in and out of Dover would have to be decreased if a system is not prepared in time.
 
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