Brexit May Cause ‘Significant Disruption’ Next Week, Michael Gove Warns

Having our cake and eating it?

Brexit could cause “significant disruption” from next week as cross-Channel trade returns to normal levels, Michael Gove has warned.

The Cabinet Office minister insisted that difficulties for traders have been “minimal” since the UK left the European single market on January 1, at the end of the Brexit transition period.

But it came as several leading companies struggled to deal with new red tape brought about by Boris Johnson’s success in driving through a so-called hard Brexit.

Major parcel courier DPD paused some deliveries to Europe, while Marks & Spencer revealed its popular Percy Pigs were struggling to find their way across the Irish Sea to supermarket shelves in Ireland.

M&S also said the new rules and regulations are set to “significantly impact” its overseas ventures in Ireland, the Czech Republic and France.

Seafood exporters said they have been hit by a “perfect storm” of bureaucracy, IT problems and confusion following Brexit.

Tesco said there had been a “short delay on certain products” entering Northern Ireland.

And hauliers described being “overwhelmed” by red tape due to new checks on deliveries to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Lorries at the port of Dover in Kent a week on from the introduction of post-Brexit regulations
Lorries at the port of Dover in Kent a week on from the introduction of post-Brexit regulations

Gove urged businesses and hauliers to ensure they have the right documents, including export declarations and certificates for things like plant and animal products, with the ports expected to come under more pressure from next week.

He said: “I’d like to thank hauliers, traders and our key industry partners for the hard work they have been putting in to make sure that they are compliant with the new rules.

“The preparations they have made have paid dividends and disruption has been minimal so far, but the real challenge and potential for significant disruption starts next week when we expect that the number of lorries heading to the border may return to norm.

“We stand ready to help keep goods flowing smoothly as we adjust to our new relationship with the EU and ensure we take advantage of the opportunities it brings.”

DPD said that up to 20% of parcels had incorrect or incomplete data, meaning they had to be returned to customers, and announced a pause to its road service into Europe and Ireland until Wednesday.

The company blamed the prime minister’s Brexit deal for leaving it facing “more complex processes and additional customs data requirements”, which along with delays and congestion at Channel crossings “has placed extra pressure on our turnaround and transit times”.

Donna Fordyce, chief executive at Seafood Scotland, said exporters faced “new bureaucratic non-tariff barriers” with no one body able to fix the situation.

“It’s a perfect storm for Scottish seafood exporters. Weakened by Covid-19, and the closure of the French border before Christmas, the end of the Brexit transition period has unleashed layer upon layer of administrative problems, resulting in queues, border refusals and utter confusion,” she said.

M&S boss Steve Rowe warned that the trade agreement between the UK and the EU is causing problems with “potential tariffs on part of our range exported to the EU, together with very complex administrative processes”.

Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “The government promised it had a plan to make sure things ran smoothly for businesses and hauliers post-Brexit.

“It’s clear the problems caused by its poor preparation and delaying tactics have not gone away. ministers have to get a grip on this and make sure essential workers are actually able to do their jobs, or we risk seeing a repeat of the chaos on our roads at Christmas.”

So far, an average of 1,584 lorries per day have attempted border crossings through Kent, only around 40% of normal traffic.

A total of 700 have been turned away from the border since January 1, but the government said that for the majority this was due to France’s requirement for drivers to have a negative coronavirus test before crossing.

But lorry traffic is increasing by around 20% each day, and is expected to hit much higher usual levels of 5,000 to 6,000 lorries a day from next week.

The government has so far issued 18,000 Kent Access Permits for hauliers wishing to cross the borders, while 150 fines have been handed out for failing to meet this requirement and attempting to queue jump at the border.


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