Lorries stuck at checkpoints for four days due to ‘terrible’ new Brexit red tape

Exclusive: Logistics firm told HMRC is ‘too busy’ to deal with trucks stuck in customs controls

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 12 January 2022 09:09
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Some lorries bringing goods from the EU to the UK have been stuck at the border for four days, as logistics bosses blamed disruption on “terrible” new Brexit red tape.

Truck drivers have reported queueing for up to eight hours trying to get through customs controls at the French port of Calais, causing delays in deliveries as firms struggle with the new rules that came into force at the start of January.

Jon Swallow, who runs the logistics company Jordan Freight, told The Independent that he has had two trucks containing automobile parts stuck at customs controls at Felixstowe for the past four days, despite getting over the border into the UK.

The driver was able to leave the port, but the goods have been stuck there since Friday. “We just don’t know what the problem is – It’s crazy,” said Mr Swallow. “We’ve been told by HMRC that they are just too busy to deal with it. These delays are very frustrating and costly for companies.”

Customs experts said problems were partly down to the government’s new IT system, which means all imports from the EU must be processed using the Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS) managed by HMRC. Many drivers have been unable to get their reference codes accepted.

But firms are also struggling with complex new customs declarations and rules-of-origin forms they have been required to complete on goods imported from the EU since 1 January this year.

Steve Cock, director of customs consultancy firm The Customs House, said one of his clients reported that 20 of their lorries, containing food products bound for the UK, were stuck in Calais and Rotterdam for around 48 hours at the end of last week because of the red tape.

“It’s a bit of pickle at the moment – it’s not just the IT system,” he told The Independent. “Not everyone knows exactly what they need for customs declarations and other paperwork.”

One British driver posted on Twitter about being forced to wait at Calais for over eight hours “for a f***ing bar code” and described the queues at the port since 1 January as “mental”.

Another haulage driver, who did not wished to be named, told The Independent he had waited in a queue at Calais for around four hours at the end of last week – causing him to have to push back another delivery to the following day.

“It’s so frustrating. The inland border park at Calais was full of trucks stuck in checks. I’m seeing 20 per cent to 25 per cent of trucks sent there for extra checks because of incorrect paperwork. This is a quiet period, and the queues are massive. So I’m expecting a lot of delays when things get busier in February.”

Michael Szydlo, who runs Quick Declare, a business advising importers and exporters, said clients have had to spend a whole day emailing back and forth with HMRC about lorries waiting at ports.

“There are a lot of issues showing that GVMS is not yet fully ready. Lots of importers will get delayed at some point,” he said. “There will be shortages from time to time. The situation needs to be sorted.”

Japanese car giant Honda was among the companies hit by delays and the hold-up of parts at the border, but the problem was resolved last week.

Rod McKenzie, of the Road Haulage Association, said he hoped the “teething problems” at the border could soon be worked out as firms adjust to the new requirements. “It’s patchy. If there are trucks held up because they don’t have the right codes it creates a backlog, which is frustrating.”

On problems with the IT system, he added: “Whenever there is a new system, we see people struggle with it at first. There’s friction, but then they adjust. We still don’t know how quickly those [drivers and businesses] in the EU will adjust.”

Long queues of lorries also built up at the port of Dover in Kent on Thursday, as the Operation TAP temporary traffic system was implemented to help ease traffic.

The port’s chief executive, Doug Bannister, said the failure to provide enough lateral flow tests was causing the congestion – despite the government’s scheme to give 100,000 key workers daily tests.

An HMRC spokesperson said the GVMS has been live for over 12 months and is “working well” with over 15,000 customers using the IT service.

“We recognise that the introduction of full customs controls is a significant change for hauliers and traders, which is why we are providing comprehensive support both through the customs and international trade helpline and jointly with representative bodies and the border industry,” the spokesperson added.

“Indications since 1 January are that traders and hauliers are adapting very well to these changes, and where issues are arising, we are working quickly to provide a solution.”

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