Hauliers dispute government claims of normalised freight levels, but Calais boss sees 'no problems'

Thu 18 Feb 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

dover ferries

The government’s claims that the UK has avoided a post-Brexit ‘worst-case scenario’ have been disputed by hauliers, but figures suggested a mixed picture for UK-EU trade.

Post-Brexit scenario planning – leaked to the national media in the September – indicated that new customs rules following the end of the transition period could have lead to queues of up to 7,000 lorries in Kent.

These queues never materialised in January, but freight levels between Dover and Calais for the month were far lower than in previous years.

Back to normal

The government earlier this week claimed that it was “pleased that overall flows are back to normal” across the Dover-Calais strait, according to the BBC.

A Cabinet spokesperson told Loadstar that high levels of compliance with new border rules by hauliers and traders had “avoided generalised disruption” and said that the government “does not foresee our ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ set out in September coming to pass”.

Exports down

However, Road Haulage Association spokesman Paul Mummery said a lack of visible queues in Kent was largely down to customs checks taking place in locations away from Kent’s ports and shouldn’t be seen as a mark of a successful transition. 

“Government figures show exports through Dover down 41.4%, as an increased number of trucks are returning to the continent empty,” he said. 

“It’s right we acknowledge some exporters are getting to grips with complex new processes, and that picture will continue to improve, but we have new pains looming.” 

New sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls are due to come into play on EU food and drink products in April, with full import controls for all goods entering the UK applied from July.  

No problems

Port Boulogne Calais chairman Jean-Marc Puissesseau told Loadstar the French side of the Channel had experienced “no problems” with new controls so far, and hopes the phasing on of checks on the UK side will run smoothly.

“Looking ahead, we are keeping an eye on the new border checks that will be phased-in, firstly in April and then in July,” he said.

“We are permanently in discussions with UK Border Force on how the rules will be implemented – but we think it should be a fairly easy change.”

Normal service

Internal figures from the Cabinet Office controlled Border Flow Service (BFS) – seen by the BBC – showed outbound roll-on roll-off lorry traffic for Great Britain, for the month of February so far, running at 98% of last year’s levels; inbound traffic is running at 99%.

Government data on lorries turning back due to the wrong documentation being completed is now below 2.5%, having been closer to 8% in the first days of the new regime.

Running empty

Analysis of the BFS figures by the BBC revealed that despite claims of trade being back to normal, actual lorry transfers of freight in January from Kent to the EU were substantially down – by around 2,000 lorries a day compared to January 2020.

By looking at a variety of ferry companies, as well as official data from France and the UK, the BBC concluded that the proportion of lorries going back to the EU without freight was around 50%.

French sources suggested Eurotunnel, which tends to transfer higher-value loads, was seeing 50-60% empty loads.

Other ports

Some of the lack of congestion on the Dover Straits crossing is due to hauliers switching to other ports such as Harwich and Immingham to avoid French Covid-19 testing requirements.

The BBC reports that the Government hopes the lack of congestion on the Dover-Calais strait can now tempt cautious traders back into sending goods to the EU.