One in 10 deliveries from UK to EU is turned back at the border amid post-Brexit chaos

Ten per cent of trade leaving the UK is being turned back at the border because drivers either do not have proof of a negative Covid test or do not have the right customs paperwork.  The ongoing delays are fuelling fears of a growing trade crisis and potential shortages, even as the volume of traffic passing between the UK and EU is said to be low for this time of year.  A member of the Border and Protocol Delivery Group (BPDG), the government unit set up to oversee the UK's borders after the Brexit transition, shared the figure with industry members on a call this week, according to a source who attended the meeting. 

The Cabinet Office said it did not recognise the figure but blamed the majority of border delays on Covid testing issues.  Since a mutated strain of the coronavirus was discovered in Britain, France has required drivers and crew of lorries and vans to obtain a negative covid test 72 hours before they cross the Channel.  However hauliers say it is the customs paperwork required for goods leaving the UK, not the Covid testing requirements, that is causing delays.

New customs requirements have been in place since the UK officially left the European Union on December 31. 

This is shocking: Ashford truck stop today with drivers queuing for up to 8 hours to get their border paperwork cleared then having to get COVID test afterwards for France @RHANews #borders #customs

-- Rod McKenzie (@RHARodMcKenzie) January 13, 2021

Vos Logistics, a Dutch company which carries industrial cargo, mainly for the automotive sector, reports trucks being stuck for days at a time on their way out of the country.  The Government is currently enforcing full export controls but import declarations can be deferred until July.  On Thursday, Gerald Mayrwoger, business development manager at Vos, said he was working on customs paperwork for trucks that had been waiting to leave the UK since Tuesday. 

"We are very much suffering on the southbound [route] from the UK to the western European Union," he said, adding that trucks leaving the UK had to complete a seven-step process in order to take the ferry or the Eurotunnel. He said the customs paperwork sometimes takes so long that the 24-hour permit drivers are given to drive through Kent expires, meaning the company then receives a fine.  Mayrwoger also described how his drivers were getting lost looking for border offices and when they found them, were having difficulties with the language barrier. 

"It's really a big, big administration challenge," he said, adding the company was planning to reduce the amount of cargo they carried out of the UK due to the disruption. "We simply cannot afford it anymore."

A lorry driver shows documentation to officials for both customs clearance and coronavirus test results as he arrives at the Eurotunnel on route to France on New Year's DayCredit: Toby Melville/Reuters

Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports trade association, said delays were particularly affecting fish exports.  "A lot of fish is being either turned away, or just not getting through in time," he said, adding certain species were seeing "quite dramatic falls in value" because delays were affecting the quality.  However not all companies are struggling. "We have sent six trucks to Europe so far, without any issues with Covid testing or customs paperwork," said Simon Sheffield, executive chairman of art shipping company Martinspeed, who is well versed in customs paperwork because the firm has long sent trucks in and out of Switzerland. 

"There are complaints from companies, who have either not prepared properly or don't have the knowledge to undertake customs," he said, adding in his view the system was "efficient and working well".

Ballantyne agreed the systems themselves were working. "Just getting used to these new arrangements is going to be a challenge and if you haven't had to use [customs controls] before, then you'll definitely take a bit of time get used to them."

The amount of trade flowing between the UK and European Union is still low for this time of year but there are concerns customs problems could intensify as the volume returns to normal levels in coming weeks. 

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