UK firms suffer due to border disruption

According to Sky News, it costs £1 a minute to run an HGV (heavy goods vehicle), so when Operation Stack is enforced on Kent’s roads – with waiting times often in excess of six hours – it can cost hundreds of pounds for companies trying to export to mainland Europe.

Operation Stack involves parking – or stacking – up to 5,000 lorries on the M20 when Eurotunnel or Dover ferry services are disrupted.

It was first introduced in 1996, but in June and July of this year it has been used to unprecedented levels due to the migrant crisis, with the M20 closed for 24 out of 40 days.

But there are also challenges when returning to the UK from Calais, not least when migrants manage to break into lorries.

According to the Freight Transport Association (FTA), one major distributor of pharmaceuticals carrying drugs bound for NHS hospitals had to write off stock of £2.5m after such a break-in, because it posed a major safety risk.

The security lapses also cause a headache for other industries, especially those where perishable goods are at stake.

Figures from the Fresh Produce Consortium suggest at least £10m worth of food destined for Britain had to be binned between January and June, because stowaways had posed a “contamination risk”.

The Road Haulage Association estimates that 90 per cent of all road freight between the UK and the continent uses Kent’s road network, with as many as 10,000 loads moving across the Channel on a daily basis.

Even if just 1 per cent of the stock is tampered with, at an average loss rate of £30,000 per trailer this amounts to a loss of £3m a day, or £1bn a year.

The FTA believes importers and hauliers have been left “carrying the can” because of the migrant crisis.

Some insurance companies are declining to cover the cost of written-off stock, invoking clauses which state that acts of civil disorder are not covered in the policies of affected businesses.

Jo James, chief executive of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, told Sky News: “Kent has been plagued with the effects of Operation Stack for over 20 years now – and every time it has been introduced, the result is the M20 is turned into a huge lorry park.

“At last, the Government has woken up to the fact that this is a national problem and a solution needs to be found.

“The loss to the local economy is significant, as businesses are unable to deliver goods and services.

“This is unacceptable and a threat to the long-term viability of some businesses.”

Eurotunnel has also accused public authorities of “underestimating the migrant situation”.

Last week, the company revealed it has spent €13m (£9m) on security measures in the first half of 2015 alone – and called on the French and British governments to reimburse them.

Ministers are now working with officials in Kent to find space to park lorries and ease congestion on the M20.

With the warnings that continued delays will be unsustainable for small businesses – and the prospect that higher costs will eventually be passed on to consumers – the pressure is on to resolve the crisis sooner rather than later.