A letter from senior Cabinet member, Michael Gove, to Britain’s freight industry has warned that companies exporting goods to the European Union after the Brexit transition period finishes at the end of the year could face two-day delays and queues of up to 7,000 vehicles.
Previously, Brexit supporters had dismissed warnings of chaos at Britain’s key points, such as Dover in Kent, as “project fear”, but now a document from the government official charged with drawing up contingency plans for Britain leaving the transition period without any new trade arrangements with the EU has spelled out the reality.
The government says details set out in the letter are a worst-case scenario illustration of what could be expected, rather than a prediction, and referred to “maximum queues of 7,000 port-bound trucks in Kent and associated maximum delays of up to two days “affecting both imports and exports.
“Irrespective of the outcome of negotiations between the UK and EU, traders will face new customs controls and processes,” Gove wrote.
“Simply put, if traders, both in the UK and EU, have not completed the right paperwork, their goods will be stopped when entering the EU and disruption will occur.
“It is essential that traders act now and get ready for new formalities.”
Richard Burnett, the chief executive of the Haulage Association, said the government had consistently failed to listen to warnings from his members.
“Traders need 50,000 more customs intermediaries to handle the mountain of new paperwork after transition but government support to recruit and train those extra people is woefully inadequate,” he said.
Logistics group the British International Freight Association also reacted angrily, accusing the government of “making villains” of key workers who were maintaining the supply chain and “getting their retaliation in first”.
“Don’t start pointing the finger of blame in our direction when you have still to provide all of the tools to do the job,” said the organization’s director general, Robert Keen.” Give our members all the information they need, and systems that actually work, and they will be more than able to do what is necessary.”
Funds for much-needed infrastructure work at Dover have still not been released, the head of EU exit policy, Tim Reardon, recently told a Treasury committee, and its chair, Conservative MP Mel Stride, said the government appeared to be leaving it “incredibly tight” and asked why there was still “talk about money being available for spades in the ground” so late in the year.
There are also fears that the situation at the turn of the year could be made even worse by the likelihood of border staff being affected by a seasonal rise in novel coronavirus cases.
Scotland has recorded its highest daily total of positive cases, with 486 new patients being diagnosed. Of these, 224 are from the Greater Glasgow and Clyde regions, including what First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called a “significant” outbreak at Glasgow University.
Meanwhile in Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has urged the public to “think carefully about where you go and who you are meeting” after signs of what he called a “clear upward curve” of new cases, although he said the Welsh government had stopped short of reintroducing the previously enforced “stay local” regulations.
The National Association of Head Teachers has said “alarm bells “should be ringing for the government as the number of schools in England sending home pupils for COVID-19 related reasons quadrupled in just one week.
Last Thursday, as a result of either confirmed or suspected cases, four percent of schools, or around 900 in total, were not fully open, with secondary schools being worse affected than primary schools.
However, the outlook for the British housing market is slightly more positive, with tax incentives and continued home working being reflected in the changing priorities of homebuyers, with a subsequent impact on sale prices.
Property website Rightmove said that year-on-year, there was a 5 percent increase in advertised prices in September, the biggest increase in four years.
The reduction in commuting has seen more people interested in moving away from city centers, and more floorspace and bigger gardens are also increasingly in demand.