UK businesses demand urgent talks over fears of Brexit border chaos

Brexit chaos

Businesses trading with the EU are demanding an urgent meeting with government ministers over concerns there are significant gaps in the UK’s Brexit border preparations.

Eight logistics organisations have written to say they fear the supply chain that keeps supermarket shelves stocked daily will be severely disrupted next year if issues are not resolved before Brexit.

They have expressed concern that some of the IT systems have not yet been tested and with four months to go there is not enough time to educate and train companies in the new systems, fuelling concerns of Brexit border chaos in January.

“If these issues are not addressed … UK business and the supply chain that we all rely so heavily on will be severely disrupted,” said a letter to the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, from the Road Haulage Association, Logistics UK, UK Warehousing Association and others.

Logistics UK, which represents freight owners, says companies that currently trade seamlessly with the EU are being asked to deal with eight different IT systems to trade with the biggest partners in the bloc.

The group are demanding a roundtable meeting with Gove, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and the transport secretary, Grant Shapps.

Four of the IT systems are being rolled out by UK authorities, but hauliers are then faced with four other systems when they arrive in France, Belgium, the Netherlands or Ireland.

One new IT system, known as the “Smart Freight” traffic light system, is designed to ensure drivers who do not have the correct paperwork for export to the EU will be barred from going into Kent and therefore adding to congestion on local roads and the port of Dover.

They have been told they face fines of £300 if they drive into Kent without the right documentation for international transit.

Logistics UK says the system will not go into beta phase testing until the autumn.

“We are concerned that mass user testing of the software will not be possible until October – or maybe even November. This is far too late for the thousands of companies and tens of thousands of people who build our complex supply chains to redesign their own processes and contractual relations,” said Sarah Laouadi, the European policy manager at Logistics UK.

Delays in rolling out the IT system have fuelled fears of congestion and chaos, with queues developing in lorry parks in Kent and new sites set to be commandeered for holding lorries across the country.

“There is nothing the lorry driver can do, if the paperwork is wrong, the paperwork is wrong and the truck will have to stay where it is until the paperwork is right, which could mean hours or even days in a lorry park,” said another source at Logistics UK.

According to a Cabinet Office memo, seen by Bloomberg, the government is aware of the potential dangers and mentions two further IT systems on top of the eight the logistics sector is aware of.

“There are up to 10 new systems that haulage firms and freight forwarders will have to navigate from Jan 1, including at least three being designed now,” the memo said. “This is completely unnecessary and unmanageable with duplication and overlap.”

Shapps said he would meet haulage bosses. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday he had “very, very regular contact” with “people like the Road Haulage Association”.

A government spokesperson said they had received the letter and would respond, adding the border operating model published earlier this summer detailed its approach.

“We worked closely with industry in its development and will continue to do so as we move towards the end of the transition period.

“In addition to the border operating model, we are also investing £705m in jobs, infrastructure and technology at the border and have announced a new £50m support package to boost the capacity of the customs intermediary sector ensuring we are ready for the changes and opportunities ahead,” the spokesperson said.