Half of trucks leaving UK empty as Brexit hits exports with paperwork

Half of trucks are being sent back from the UK to Europe empty as Brexit paperwork deals a blow to the industry. The number of HGVs crossing the Channel from Britain carrying only ‘fresh air’ has risen since customs declarations were slapped on exports from January 1, UK officials believe. But there is a dispute over the figures, which are not officially published by the government.

It’s thought government officials believe the figure has risen to about 50% from a normal rate of about 40% – caused by both Brexit and coronavirus. But the Road Haulage Association estimates the normal rate of empty trucks is more like 18% and put Brexit squarely in the frame. The RHA told the Mirror demand for carrying exports had plunged as some firms find the paperwork unaffordable.

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In other cases, exports take more time to sign off and hauliers “can’t wait” for them to be ready.

Duncan Buchanan of the RHA said: “It’s a range of reasons. “One of the most fundamental is they are unable to process the right paperwork to cross the border in time. “There are insufficient customs agents and not enough capacity, and some HGV drivers can’t wait for firms to be ready.

“There is a permanent reduction in trade as well. There are goods that will no longer be able to be exported commercially because you will no longer be able to make a profit given the increased cost of customs processes.” A government source said: “We have heard from our French counterparts that on Wednesday the number of empty lorries was around 50% and we’ll continue to work with them closely on this.

It is an entirely normal part of freight flows to have empty lorries on the outbound leg from the UK into the EU.”

“There are insufficient customs agents and not enough capacity, and some HGV drivers can’t wait for firms to be ready,” said the RHA

Despite the drop in exports, it’s understood government officials now believe it is “extremely unlikely” the worst-case scenario of 7,000-truck-long queues will come to pass. Around 85% of trucks destined for Europe have a ‘Kent Access Permit’ to enter the county. Around 5% are being turned back for having the wrong paperwork or Covid requirements, it’s understood.

Officials are still braced for disruption in future – but believe freight traffic was around 70% of normal levels in mid-January and neared 80% in the last week. It came as the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee launched an urgent inquiry into delays to meat and seafood exports – which industry chiefs say have been strangled by red tape. Chairman Neil Parish said: “A month of delays, disruption and red tape have meant food export businesses large and small have lost many tens of thousands of pounds.

“This needs to be gripped by the Government at the highest level before businesses go to the wall.”

A government spokesperson said: “Overall businesses have adapted well to the changes, and it is increasingly unlikely that our reasonable worst case scenario will happen.
“However, we are prepared for all scenarios and we appreciate that some businesses are facing challenges with specific aspects of our new trading relationship with the EU, and we are pulling out all the stops to help them adjust.”

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