Truckers ramp up rates as Brexit bites and customs chaos looms

Foreign truckers bringing freight to Britain have raised their prices by almost 700pc over fears of getting stranded in the UK or not being able to secure loads for the return journey.

Hauliers who previously charged EUR1.50 per kilometre now want EUR10 because of the impact of new Brexit customs controls, according to the Road Haulage Association.

The trade body said it had alerted ministers to the price hikes, warning them that the fallout from Brexit has the “potential to impact EU-GB trade” as the hidden costs of Britain leaving the trading bloc become clear.

Richard Burnett, RHA chief executive, added: “Hauliers are raising their prices for trips to the UK because of fears about disruption, getting held up by new paperwork and a lack of certainty that they can get ‘back loads’ for the return journey to make it worthwhile.” 

Further underlining exporters’ frustrations, he said his own organisation’s customs brokerage has been “inundated by traders and hauliers who haven’t been able to get customs brokers to do their paperwork”.

Exporters desperate for the forms to be completed but lacking the necessary expertise have been offer four times the normal rate, Mr Burnett said.

However, he warned the customs brokerage industry did not have the capacity to meet demand need despite the premiums being offered, meaning this would “reduce trade”.

The RHA said it had been told by its European peers, including those in Poland and Romania, that “traders in their countries are not supplying the UK as they cannot understand what, where, or how to arrange export or import paperwork”.

Mr Burnett said: “If British companies can’t work out the paperwork, what hope have foreign firms got?” The warnings come amid reports of supermarkets beginning to run out of some imported fresh foods, and empty shelves in some Irish stores which rely on goods transiting through there UK. 

Last week Michael Gove warned businesses to brace for “significant disruption” at the border as French customs officials tightened up controls, and said the Government would “redouble” its efforts to communicate changes to companies and logistics businesses. 

Dover by haulage type

Disruption at Britain’s gateways has been limited since Britain officially left the EU on December 31, but this has been largely attributed to a combination of low trade volumes thanks to stockpiling, the Christmas break and latitude from European customs officials.

However, this week is expected to reveal the true strain Brexit will place on international trade. The number of trucks going through the Dover and the Channel Tunnel is running at about 2,500 a day – low compared to peak times of the year but far higher than over past weeks.

Elizabeth de Jong of Logistics UK said: “Freight volumes across the Dover Straits have been lower than usual for the time of year, but are expected to rise steadily this week. 

“While the number of vehicles being refused passage has been very low in percentage terms, this will be the week which really tests whether planning, understanding and systems are sufficient.

“Because the volumes are so low, and possibly last week 40pc less than we’d normally have at this time of year, we’ve not really been able to test those systems so currently there’s enough staff.”

The National Audit Office warned in November that UK border facilities were likely to be at “minimum operating capability” in time for Britain leaving the EU, but said systems to reduce disruption were “still developing, with various issues yet to be resolved”.

Haulage industry sources described complex new customs procedures as “being tested in real time” and expressed amazement at so few trucks being turned back.

This was attributed to the unusually low volumes of trade, with many exporters “sitting on their hands and waiting to see how the situation plays out”, according to one.