Port bottlenecks to worsen as lorry traffic picks up, hauliers warn

The post-Brexit bottleneck at ports will get “much worse before it gets better”, hauliers have warned, as trade volumes are set to increase this week threatening to overwhelm customs systems. Lorry traffic on the crucial “short straits” route from Dover and the Channel Tunnel is expected to rise significantly this week, further straining new border check procedures that are struggling to cope already. Less than half the normal level of freight traffic has been flowing since Britain left the EU.

According to the Road Haulage Association (RHA), about 25pc of the normal traffic went through the route in the first week after Brexit and 40pc last week, meaning new border checks are under less pressure. Low cargo flows are down to suppressed demand because of coronavirus, businesses tapping stockpiles, and exporters holding back to see how the situation plays out. However, as industry gears up after the festive break, stockpiles run down and companies can no longer wait, the logistics industry and ports are braced for trouble.

This is shocking: Ashford truck stop today with drivers queuing for up to 8 hours to get their border paperwork cleared then having to get COVID test afterwards for France @RHANews #borders #customs pic.twitter.com/aNnEK1SRPT

— Rod McKenzie (@RHARodMcKenzie) January 13, 2021

Richard Burnett, RHA chief executive, said: “Volumes have been low but they have to rise and this is likely to be the week when we really start to see what Brexit means.

“This is going to get much worse before it gets better. Higher volumes will inevitably lead to shortages. It’s difficult to say exactly where they will hit but it could be anywhere – from food to non-essential retail to industry.

It’s chaotic because businesses are so confused by new customs clearances.” Ports are also braced for a week of rising post-Brexit pressure. Mark Simmonds, policy director of the British Ports Association, added: “We’ve seen a period of relative calm in the first two weeks.

I expect the ‘phoney war’ will end as traders who have been avoiding the border whilst waiting to see what will happen return in the next fortnight.”

A lorry driver shows documentation to officials for both customs clearance and coronavirus disese (COVID-19) test results as he arrives at the Eurotunnel on route to France on the first day after the end of the Brexit transition period, Folkestone.Credit: TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS

The British Retail Consortium, which represents the country’s shops, has described the new customs requirements as “unworkable”. Andrew Opie, the group’s director of food and sustainability, added: “Currently friction at the border is not impacting food supplies. Stockpiles built up in the lead-up to Jan 1 are beginning to be run down, and deliveries are increasing across the border.

It is imperative border processes are as smooth as possible, as extended delays can impact the supplies of highly perishable food.”

Industry sources say the majority of loads leaving Britain post-Brexit are from often larger companies which are “well prepared” for the new regime.

As others who have less resources try to make crossings, they expect problems to grow rapidly.

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