Brexit: Grant Shapps says border is ‘flowing very smoothly’
UK hauliers have been warned tougher customs controls will be implemented from Monday, prompting fears of significant disruption at the borders. French officials are expected to ramp up checks after lorries arriving from the UK were found not to be fully compliant with EU trade rules, particularly on phytosanitary (SPS) controls on agrifoods.
The warnings were made during two conference calls between British industry bodies and UK Government agencies on Thursday, according to the Financial Times.
The paper reports the French had “read the riot act” to port and ferry operations after initial checks showed the vast majority of lorries arriving from the UK breached EU trade rules.
As a result UK trade groups and senior Whitehall officials are braced for “more rigorous checks” next week.
One senior UK official said the government was “holding its breath” for more significant disruption at British ports in the coming days.
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They told the newspaper: “We’re going to start seeing a crystallisation in the next couple of days of the pressures building up.”
Since the EU transition period ended on December 31, the borders have seen little disruption.
This is in part due to a decline in lorry traffic between Dover and Calais, with the route running at just 50 percent of normal January volumes.
But Rod McKenzie, of the Road Haulage Association, warned the low volumes were the “lull before the storm”.
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He said: “The current low volumes won’t continue. So, unless operators are diligent and border-ready, including getting driver Covid tests, next week could be very challenging for the supply chain.”
John Glen, economist at the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, expects trading volumes to increase from next week.
He said many members have indicated they would return to normal trading next week.
This could cause havoc if France does toughen its customs checks from Monday.
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Trade groups have said not all the paperwork is being completed correctly, due to the extreme complexity of the forms.
Shane Brennan, the chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, said it was possible for vehicles to obtain electronic authorisations to travel but then still discover that SPS documents they had submitted were not in order on inspection in France.
He said: “The Government has this theory that vehicles will only appear unprepared once and the second time won’t do it again.
“But these processes are so complicated that might be a very optimistic assessment of the situation.”
The French government said it has no plans to ramp up checks next week, and said it would continue its routine checks as normal.
A spokesman for the French ministry that oversees customs said officials at the border had been following the new post-Brexit rules governing trade with the UK since January 1.
He said: “At this stage there are few controls happening because the traffic is very low.
“But the new rules have been applied from the first day and have not changed.”
He added: “We do not fix a specific level of controls to be made on shipments coming across the border. The controls depend on the risk posed by the merchandise itself.”
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