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The government has published a blueprint for mitigating a ‘no deal’ outcome in the EU trade negotiations, after admitting “low levels of trade and haulier readiness” for new customs rules and checks after the current transition period finishes on 31 December 2020.

The Department for Transport yesterday (4 August) announced a month-long consultation on the plans to mitigate the impact of the new checks and documentary requirements for businesses.

In particular, there are concerns that changes to UK-EU trade from the start of next year could cause tailbacks of trucks carrying goods over the border, especially around the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel Terminal at Folkestone.

The UK published its ‘Border Operating Model’ for post-transition trade in July this year.

Operation Brock

The government described its blueprint for mitigating the risk of tailbacks as “something akin to Operation Brock” – the government’s plan in 2019 for mitigating a ‘cliff edge’ no-deal outcome in the UK’s negotiations for leaving the EU.

It admitted that disruption at cross-Channel ports is “clearly a possibility” due to the knock-on effect of additional customs checks in France and “low levels of trader and haulier readiness” for the new rules.

The plans include a motorway contraflow system to provide space to back up 2,000 trucks on the M20 outside Dover and Folkestone, with additional capacity for another 2,000 in a truck park in Ashford.

Government said disruption is “unlikely to extend much beyond the middle of 2021”.

10,000 trucks

Truck drivers will be required to ensure the correct documentation has been completed for the movement of goods over borders – including customs declarations.

Some 10,000 trucks are estimated to travel across the Channel between Dover or Folkestone and Calais or Dunkirk every day.

Many of these hauliers rely on ‘roll-on, roll-off’ (Ro-Ro) facilities to ensure goods are moved quickly through ports. ‘Ro-Ro’ traffic is particularly important for perishable goods like food or medicines.

Fines for truckers

Under the new Border Operating Model, a new ‘Smart Freight Service’ (SFS) will be created to facilitate the smooth flow of goods vehicles leaving the UK, with documentation required for all UK-to-EU exports from 1 January 2021.

This will then be superseded by the ‘Goods Vehicle Movement Service’ (GVMS) in July – at which point all imports from the EU will also require declarations.

Truckers who have not ensured they’ve used SFS to check they have completed the correct paperwork could face fines of £300 from the start of next year, the government indicated yesterday.

No truck with Brock

Government analysis in October 2019 showed many hauliers were not properly prepared for new customs checks, but the SFS solution to facilitating these checks in January 2020 is still in development and untested.

By comparison, the French government has already designed, built and tested its own “SI Brexit” system, the FT report.

The Operation Brock blueprint has attracted criticism from associations representing the UK’s logistics providers, with Chris Yarsley, policy manager at Logistics UK, telling Loadstar that his members are “dismayed that the onus for compliance will be placed on drivers”.

Richard Burnett, chief executive at the Road Haulage Association, told the FT that the plans were impractical, saying “if we don’t have enough customs agents to create the paperwork, then hauliers cannot be expected to go to the ports with the paperwork all correct”.

‘Not inevitable’

Government said that the delays were “not inevitable” and last month announced £50m in grant funding to help traders and intermediaries prepare for new trade rules post-transition.

It has been widely reported that an additional 215m declarations will be required for post-transition trade as a result of the UK ceasing to trade under EU rules from the start of next year.

The FT has cited an estimate of 50,000 extra customs agents that would be required to process this paperwork.