Lorries queue for miles in Kent as Brexit trade deal deadline looms

Brexit: Lorries queue for 20 miles in Kent amid warnings of no-deal stockpiling

Thousands of trucks waiting to cross on either side of the Channel

Sam Hancock@samhancock95
Friday 18 December 2020 19:18
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Video shows a lorry queue of up to 20 miles in Folkestone amid multiple reports that businesses are beginning to stockpile goods before the UK’s potential no-deal exit from the EU.

Footage taken from above the M20 in Kent showed gridlocked vehicles queueing to access the Channel tunnel, in a week which has been marred by “substantial disruptions” at multiple British ports according to a letter addressed to international trade secretary Liz Truss and transport secretary Grant Shapps. 

In the document, dated Friday, Angus MacNeil and Huw Merriman – chairs of the International Trade and Transport Committees – request “government intervention” to sooth chaos at various UK container ports which, they write, “appears to be result of Brexit stockpiling and Covid-19 disruption”.

The situation is no different on the other side of the Channel, either, as trucks began filling dual carriageways in Calais on Thursday.

Port of Dover chief executive Doug Bannister said on Friday the queues were a result of Brexit unpreparedness, warning there was “significant uncertainty” around how prepared companies are for a no-deal outcome.

He said due to the transition period deadline being just “a fortnight away”, things were “going to come right down to the wire”.  

“We are going through a really busy period right now with the Brexit stockpiling, the diversion of cargo from other ports coming in through our gateway, it is a really important period of time,” Mr Bannister told the PA news agency. 

He added that over the past couple of weeks, Dover’s port alone had seen a “near-40-per-cent increase” in the number of lorries passing through it compared to this time last year – a consequence of Brexit chaos, the busy Christmas period and global backlogs caused by the coronavirus crisis. 

Leo Varadkar, the Irish deputy premier, said similar delays at Holyhead were also likely due to stockpiling. "I think it's likely that any delays at the ports that are happening at the moment are related to stockpiling, a lot of businesses are going to want to fill their warehouses in advance of there being a deal or no deal as the case may be when it comes to Brexit," he told a press conference on Friday.

The price of moving containers has also increased significantly, meaning businesses are losing millions of pounds just trying to get goods to where they are supposed to be. The cost of moving a container from Qingdao, in China, to the UK, for example, is now £7,500 per load – up from £2,000.

Mr MacNeil and Mr Merriman acknowledge this in their letter, writing: “We were concerned to hear that this disruption is causing … major increases to the costs of shipping freight, with container prices trebling or quadrupling to up to £8,000 in some cases”. 

It was also revealed this week that a vital lorry park, to be situated in Ashford, in Kent, would not be finished in time for the beginning of the new year, The government cited rain as the reason for its delay. The park is needed to curb lorry queues, like the one captured on Friday, and stop them from becoming a regular occurrence when new, slower customs processes are put in place at UK borders from 31 December. 

Despite all this, Mr Bannister of Dover’s port said he believed the increase in traffic this side of New Year’s Eve meant that the first weeks of 2021 should be calmer.

“My hope is it allows traders and the hauliers and everyone to become accustomed with the new processes,” he said, adding: “When the volume begins to return again later in the month and into February, we’ll have a higher proportion of people that can operate in this post-transition period environment.”

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