Brexit: Kent border plan ridiculed, as road haulage chiefs say checks ‘won’t work’

‘It’s not an effective system to actually ensure someone is ready to cross the border,’ says top logistics body 

Adam Forrest
Thursday 24 September 2020 10:40 BST
Michael Gove says police will patrol Kent border

Forcing British lorry drivers to obtain special permits to enter Kent is “pointless” and will not provide effective checks on goods coming in and out of the country at the end of the Brexit transition period, according to road haulage groups.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove announced on Wednesday that truck drivers would need a Kent Access Permit (KAP) to enter the county if they were heading on to the EU — or face being turned away by police.

The border plan has been widely ridiculed and has sparked outrage among the country’s top logistics bodies. The Road Haulage Association (RHA) said it was “pointless and probably counterproductive”.

The RHA’s policy director Duncan Buchanan said he was involved in a recent test of the “tick box exercise”, which indicated that KAPs will be issued to all lorry drivers who simply claim their paperwork is in order — without any proper checks carried out.

“It’s an honesty box system,” he said. “It’s not an effective system to actually guarantee or ensure that someone is ready to cross the border. It is just a logging system for someone to say, ‘I am going to the port and I promise I’m ready’. It doesn’t really do much more than that.”

The haulage group Logistics UK also hit back at Mr Gove, saying it was his responsibility to give firms the “details of and access to” to new IT systems and describing the extra paperwork as a “huge challenge”.

While many mocked the idea of new, de-facto border around the south-east county, Labour accused the cabinet minister of “passing the blame onto business for the chaos being caused by his government”.

The government has claimed the Kent permits could help avoid queues of up to 7,000 trucks seeking to cross the English Channel after the UK leaves the single market and customs union at the end of the year.

A lack of preparation for the end of the transition period could result in as many as 70 per cent of lorries being turned back from France, Mr Gove admitted — with thousands of goods vehicles waiting up to two days/48 hours to reach Dover as a result of the chaos.

Michael Gove announcing permit plan in the Commons

While the government’s preparations for border operations have caused some disquiet among Conservative MPs, Damian Green, Tory MP for Ashford in Kent, said he welcomed the permit plan.

The former de facto deputy prime minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he supported the idea of “spreading the problem around the country” so lorries did not get logjammed close to Dover and the Channel Tunnel.

“If you can say to these lorries there are problems … it is much more sensible to sort them out before thousands of lorries descend on Kent,” said Mr Green. “So actually spreading the problem around the country means it is not a problem for everyone.”

Mr Green added: “It is not a border — I got all the jokes on social media and things like that, but actually it is more sensible for an individual lorry driver who doesn’t have the right paperwork to sort it out while he is sitting in a service station in the Midlands somewhere than actually on the side of a motorway in Kent.”

Government officials told the Financial Times Mr Gove’s announcement was part of “shock and awe” campaign to get unprepared businesses ready for 1 January.

A survey published on Thursday by the British Chambers of Commerce has found that more than half (51 per cent) of firms surveyed had not taken any of the steps recommended by the government to prepare for changes at the end of the transition period.  

This includes fundamentals such as checking on the need for customs declarations, and assessing the possible impact of changes on existing customers and suppliers.

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