Unite said the full customs controls brought in after Brexit is causing significant hold-ups at the port – with each driver taking 10 to 20 minutes to clear checks.
Adrian Jones, Unite’s national officer for road transport, told The Independent: “The queues and the delays are only going to get longer as both tourism and commercial trade pick up in the weeks ahead.”
The union official said the additional time for checks was down to the codes needed for government’s new Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS) system and other export paperwork.
“It’s not about drivers having the wrong paperwork – it’s just about the length of time it takes to go through all the paperwork,” Mr Jones added.
Drivers have been stuck in queues of up to 15km (9 miles) since full customs controls came into force on 1 January. Even longer delays have been experienced at the French port of Calais because of the extra red tape needed for imports from the EU into the UK.
The government has denied that post-Brexit customs controls are behind the recent congestion at Dover. Transport minister Baroness Vere told MPs on Wednesday that ferry maintenance was to blame for the build-up of traffic.
“[The queues] are actually due to the fact that there are three ships being refitted at the moment,” she said. “Our view is that the delay in Dover is not due to border checks.”
However, the port’s chief executive Doug Bannister has said customs checks were “indeed” causing delays – though he said the refitting of some ferries was adding to the pressure.
Asked on Sky News earlier this week if “any” part of the delays was down to Brexit”, he said: “Certainly. The introduction of the full customs checks that came in on the 1 January … that additional time to process is indeed as a result of Brexit.”
Unite called on the government to try to streamline some of the customs red tape, boost the number of customs agents at ports and expand the facilities for drivers held up in checks. “All these things should have been planned for – it’s unacceptable,” said Mr Jones.
The union official said he was not aware of any problems with the GVMS causing short-term problems. “We’re told it’s working as expected. The checks take as long they take. Which is why it would be good for the government to streamline as much as they can and =[put] proper infrastructure in place for drivers.”
A government spokesperson said: “It is untrue to suggest that short delays to freight movements at Dover have been caused by new customs processes. The main causes were ship-refitting, which reduces capacity across the short straits, and higher than expected freight volumes.”
“The Goods Vehicle Movement System and other customs systems are online and working as planned. Indications since 1 January are that traders and hauliers are adapting very well to the new processes.”
One driver told The Independent last week it was taking 15 to 20 minutes for each driver to clear checks at Dover. “It’s entirely Brexit,” said the driver, who has had to push back some of his clients’ deliveries.
Truck drivers have reported queueing for up to eight hours trying to get through customs controls at Calais, with some lorries pulled aside because problems with the new paperwork needed to be sorted out.
A leading logistics firm told The Independent earlier this month that lorries bringing goods from the EU to the UK had been stuck at the border for four days.
Meanwhile, officials from the National Union of Farmers (NFU) have been speaking to peers about the downsides of the post-Brexit UK-Australia trade deal.
“It’s not a particularly good deal from our point of view … it doesn’t create many new opportunities for UK farmers,” Nick von Westenholz, director of trade at the NFU, told international agreements committee.
“It does completely liberalise access for agricultural goods from Australia into the UK which poses a risk for UK farmers … so there’s limited upside and potentially significant downside.”
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