Andrew Baxter, MD of Europa Worldwide Group, has rejected claims that operators are set for major disruption at the channel ports at the end of the Brexit transition period, arguing that such speculation is “basically wrong”.
The UK is due to leave the EU single market and customs union on 31 December, sparking widespread fears that the new arrangement will cause chaos for hauliers at the channel ports.
Last month the government said it was considering re-launching Operation Brock in anticipation of border queues for at least the first six months of next year.
Mitigation plans would allow up to 2,000 HGVs to be queued on the coastbound carriageway between junctions 8 and 9 of the M20 and at other holding areas in Kent.
The government also plans “to incentivise hauliers to ensure they are border-ready by making use of the proposed Smart Freight Service” and punish those who do not have the right documentation with £300 fines and possible seizure of goods.
However, Baxter insisted systems would be in place to cope with any disruption and that drivers would not travel without the necessary accreditation.
“All this talk of queues and backlogs is massively overstated and I don’t really believe that will be an issue when the transition period ends,” he told motortransport.co.uk.
“In order to cross you will need to have relevant, valid customs documents. Nobody in their right mind is going to go to the port without those documents and therefore the only people going to the port will be people who have them, and they will be able to cross.”
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Baxter’s comments came after Europa announced the appointment of Lieven Hendrickx as its new head of customs.
Formerly with Deloitte, the Belgian will lead the company’s customs team and oversee its new product – Frictionless Trade Services (FTS) – which is designed to simplify the customs process, assist with export and import declarations and reduce delays.
“I don’t really understand on what basis people think there are going to be queues,” Baxter continued. “I actually think it’s a slightly patronising view of truck drivers that people think they’ll just go anyway and sit their honking their horns. People aren’t that stupid, so the reality is they will get documents and will be able to cross. All this talk of massive delays at the ports is basically wrong.
“Hauliers are working on very tight margins and they’ve got all sorts of complexities to deal with. They’re not going to send trucks to the ports without the correct documentation.”
Baxter also rejected claims that an increase in vehicle checks after the transition period ends would inevitably lead to long delays.
“There will be a level of checking but that will have to be relatively modest,” he said. “The French have built additional facilities to do additional checks. The compound for that is about 50 trucks. The physical check will take four or five hours. There are about 10,000 trucks an hour crossing between Dover and Calais. Do the maths yourself. It’s going to have to be a small fraction. The checks are not going to happen inbound into the UK. It will be a small fraction of the goods across the channel that will get checked. Yes, those trucks will get delayed but it doesn’t mean other trucks will.”
He added that even if customs officials wanted to check more trucks than they had capacity for they would not leave them backed up in the tunnel: “They’re going to move the trucks into a parking area where they hold those that need to be inspected,” he said. “So there’s no reason to think the checks will create backlogs. Checks will delay trucks being checked but it won’t delay other trucks.”
Responding to industry sources who have predicted significant queues at check points he said: “I don’t think anyone who knows what they’re talking about can say that, because it’s simply not what the processes are about. Going to the port without the correct documentation is like going to the airport without your passport and just sitting there and waiting. Nobody does that.
“Ultimately If you haven’t got a passport you have to go away and get one. Sitting around isn’t going help so I don’t believe that’s what’s going to happen.”
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