First ferries and trucks cross between UK and EU under new post-Brexit trading regime

The first ferries and trucks to pass between the UK and EU under post-Brexit customs arrangements have done so without delay, marking the start of a new era in European trade. The arrivals took place – without obvious disruptions – in the hours following the end of the transition period, which came to a close on New Year’s Eve.

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The first lorry passed through controls at the Eurotunnel overnight as it headed for Europe from UK soil. And the arrivals on the shuttle from France followed a couple of hours later, without disruption.

First arrivals

Irish Ferries’ ship Ulysses docked in Dublin at 5.55am on 1 January, with about a dozen trucks on board that had travelled from Holyhead in Wales.

Victor, a Ukrainian driver and the first to arrive in France across the Channel from Britain, poses for a picture in front of his truck at the Euro Tunnel in Calais. Photo: Getty

There were no apparent delays for the initial group of vehicles passing through customs checks for the first time since the new trade relationship came into force at 11pm on 31 December. The deadline marked the point when, after 47 years as an EU member state, the UK became what is known as a “third country” for trade and customs purposes.

New documentation and red tape is now required between EU member states and Britain, which is anticipated to cause massive delays at ports in the coming weeks.

Warning from hauliers

Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister said dramatic disruption, which would have been caused by no future trade deal being signed off, had been avoided but warned of a “new reality” for businesses on both sides of the agreement.

First ferries and trucks cross between UK and EU under new post-Brexit trading regime People watch the first truck, from Estonia, entering the Eurotunnel terminal Friday, Jan.1, 2021 Photo: Getty

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “We’re now going to see the 80 billion euro (GBP71.2 billion) worth of trade across the Irish Sea between Britain and Ireland disrupted by an awful lot more checks and declarations, and bureaucracy and paperwork, and cost and delay.

“That is the inevitable consequence, unfortunately, even with a trade agreement which everybody, I think, is very relieved was signed on Christmas Eve.” Irish hauliers had warned of “mayhem” at ports in the coming weeks. Eugene Drennan, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA), said on New Year’s Eve that hauliers are bracing themselves for “trouble and chaos” because the new systems “have not been tested [and] have not been tried”.

Concerns delays are inevitable

New Year is generally a quiet time for the passage of freight but there are concerns delays will be unavoidable when trade increases in the coming days.

First ferries and trucks cross between UK and EU under new post-Brexit trading regime Lorries disembark the first ferry that arrived after the end of the transition period with the EU at the port in Dover Photo: AP

Under the new rules, lorry drivers heading to the Port of Dover will have to ensure they have a Kent Access Permit before entering the county on their way to the border.

This is designed to ensure drivers have pre-prepared the new paperwork needed to avoid a logjam of trucks being held up at the border. Travel to Ireland will not change, but the Northern Ireland Protocol which governs trade between Great Britain and the region began at at 11pm last night.

Government ‘ready’

This means Northern Ireland will remain in the EU single market for goods, and will apply EU customs rules at its ports, even though the region is still part of the UK customs territory. The protocol will also see Northern Ireland follow certain EU rules on state aid and VAT on goods.

Government officials insisted the necessary border systems and infrastructure in the UK are in place, and they are ready for the “new start”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his post-Brexit trade deal, which was passed on Wednesday, “provides certainty for UK business and industry, because it means that we can continue to trade freely – with zero tariffs and zero quotas – with the EU”.

Additional reporting by PA.