Road haulage chiefs today warned there is an 80 per cent chance of ‘chaos in Kent’ on January 1 because the Government has failed to put in place an adequate post-Brexit customs system.
Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, told MPs that ministers are in ‘denial’ about the prospect of a border meltdown as lorry drivers are forced to adapt to new paperwork.
He said ministers and civil servants simply ‘don’t get’ what could happen and they have a misplaced ‘self belief in their own rhetoric at the moment, that everything will be okay’.
Mr Burnett said the roll out of the new system was ‘not happening fast enough’ as he warned there is not enough time to recruit and train all of the customs agents who will be needed to help businesses navigate post-Brexit checks.
The Road Haulage Association is demanding an urgent meeting with Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to raise concerns in person.
Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, told MPs that ministers are in ‘denial’ about the prospect of a border meltdown as lorry drivers are forced to adapt to post-Brexit paperwork. The port of Dover is pictured on August 14
New border arrangements are due to come into force next year after the end of the Brexit transition period.
Lorry drivers without the correct paperwork for exporting into the EU risk being stopped from boarding ferries and the industry fears that could result in massive traffic jams on the roads leading to ports in the south east.
Mr Burnett was asked during an appearance in front of the Future Relationship with the European Union Select Committee to estimate the chances of ‘chaos in Kent’ next year.
He said: ‘In terms of my gut feeling as we stand here today with 81 days to go with the amount of work that we have got to undertake, chaos in Kent, 80/20 for, potentially.
‘If businesses try to dispatch because they haven’t got customs agents to do the paperwork then the chances are they are still going to want to trade, they are still going to want to drive volume there and if we are not ready then the likelihood is we will have chaos.’
Mr Burnett said the industry’s fear is that there will be ‘significant disruption potentially at the year end’ mainly because the UK will not have enough customs agents.
Hilary Benn, the chairman of the committee, asked why ministers seemingly ‘don’t get’ the border issue.
Mr Burnett said: ‘I don’t know why they don’t get it. They really should because we’ve been talking about this for some time now.
‘We’ve been providing warnings of what may happen. I think there’s almost a kind of self belief in their own rhetoric at the moment, that everything will be okay.
‘But the devil is in the detail, and some of the fundamental things that need to change, and some of the things that need to be invested in, are simply not happening fast enough.
‘If we go back to the primary point which is about customs intermediaries and having the number of customs agents available to deal with the increased number of declarations, some 200 million additional declarations on top of the 50 million that are done for the rest of the world at the moment, we are a long way off being able to recruit those customs agents.’
The Road Haulage Association has demanded a meeting with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, pictured in the Commons on September 4, to raise concerns about the post-Brexit customs system
Mr Burnett said it ‘takes a significant amount of time to train and prepare these individuals’ to be in a position to help businesses export.
‘It can take six to 12 months just to familiarise yourself but probably three years to really understand how the process works end to end and we have got 81 working days between now and the end of the year to be able to recruit the number of agents that are required,’ he said.
‘The intelligence that is coming back from the industry is that there is a denial, there is an apathy, there is a real sense that government is not getting the message across that this is going to happen, the communications are not clear I don’t think.’
Mr Burnett called on the Government to agree an implementation period with the EU so that new customs rules and requirements can be phased in.