Cross-Channel trade in 2021

Paul Clarke reports on the situation with regards to cross-Channel trade both pre and post-Brexit.

The Government issued a set of Orders in September 2019 to ensure that the movement of cross-Channel lorries in Kent could be controlled in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

All three statutory instruments were set to expire on 31 December 2020, by which time, Ministers must have assumed, any possible traffic problems caused by the UK leaving the EU would have eased. However, a deal was reached which meant that the UK entered into a transition period with the EU during which the rules on movement of goods remained in place.

No deal time again

The date for leaving was effectively postponed until the end of 2020 but now both sides have warned that, even if a last-minute trade deal is agreed, there will have to be increased controls at the border. The probability of traffic jams on the roads heading for Dover, Eurotunnel and the Short Straits Channel crossing is therefore back on the Government’s agenda.

Have your say

The Department for Transport (DfT) has accordingly launched a consultation asking for views on its plans for enforcing traffic management plans for outbound heavy commercial vehicles (HCVs) in Kent when the transition period ends. Full details can be found at GOV.UK, and it is a measure of the urgency of this issue that the deadline for submitting comments is 23 August — allowing three weeks rather than the usual consultation period of three months.

The proposals

Not surprisingly, the Government is suggesting that the application of the three Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent Orders should be extended (until 31 October 2021). This would mean that trucks heading for Dover and Eurotunnel would again be subject to Operation Brock, having to follow designated routes and subject to fines for failing to comply.

Plans are also set out to update road layouts to reflect potential changes to Operation Brock and to alter border readiness plans so checks are completed with an online system. All of these suggestions are explained in detail in the lengthy consultation document, which gives a useful insight into how the Government sees the immediate impact of the UK finally leaving the EU.

What happens in January 2021?

The French authorities will impose full EU customs and controlled goods checks on all goods travelling from Great Britain (GB) to the EU’s customs territory at Hauts-de-France (for vehicles coming by ferry from the Port of Dover or those using Eurotunnel’s freight service). While the French have increased the capacity of their facilities, these checks will almost certainly slow down cross-border movement with a knock-on effect on road traffic in Kent.

Normally, just over 1000 lorries can be held within the Port of Dover, and around 400 at Eurotunnel’s Folkestone terminal. As the Government highlights, any delay due to the new checks will be exacerbated by low levels of trader and haulier readiness. Indeed, a vehicle without the required customs and import/export documentation risks being held at port until the relevant paperwork has been provided, and in some circumstances having the goods seized or destroyed.

Being border ready

What the consultation document makes clear, therefore, is that lorry drivers must carry all the necessary documentation to get through both the British and the EU port (or have been provided with the appropriate information to get the documentation). This includes:

  • a master or movement reference number (MRN) from an import declaration if the goods are going to stay in the country of disembarkation (for example, goods going from GB to France), or a transit accompanying document if the goods are either staying in the country of disembarkation or going to move beyond it (for example, goods going from GB to Spain via France)

  • an admission temporaire/temporary admission (ATA) carnet if the goods are temporarily going abroad (for example, goods going from GB to France and then back to GB)

  • a transports internationaux routiers (TIR) carnet if goods are sealed and/or going to non-Common Transit Convention (CTC) member countries (for example, GB to India overland).

In addition, drivers will need import and export documentation depending on what goods are carried (it is possible that a free trade agreement or sectoral deal may change some of the requirements for import and export documentation). For example, EU Member State authorities will check for the following on arrival at the EU port:

  • an export health certificate for products of animal origin

  • a phytosanitary certificate for plant and plant-based products

  • a catch certificate, export health certificate and where appropriate a captain’s certificate for fish.

Drivers using the accompanied roll-on roll-off (RoRo) route would need a safety and security declaration before arriving in the EU although EU rules mean that these can be completed shortly before arrival.

Improving Operation Brock

The transition period has provided opportunities to improve the plans for Operation Brock and, where necessary, to reflect any Covid-19 measures. Brock permits are likely to be re-introduced, together with fines for travelling without them, but some changes can be anticipated compared with the system that was proposed in 2019.

Then there was a permanent contraflow between Junctions 8 and 9 of the London-bound carriageway of the M20 with a steel barrier between lanes 1 and 2 of the northbound carriageway. That carriageway was reduced from three to two lanes with a speed limit of 50 miles per hour when Brock was inactive. Now, Highways England has developed a plan making use of a concrete quick moveable barrier to set up the contraflow. This will enable around 2000 trucks to be held — the same capacity as the previous contraflow.

Inland border posts

A site in Ashford has been bought to allow for new inland border control posts as there is insufficient space for the required facilities at the ports. This site will be able to hold some 2000 vehicles and, while it is mainly intended for checks conducted by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on inbound and outbound goods, it could be used as a holding site for outbound HCVs as part of Operation Brock.

Smart Freight

One way to avoid congestion, the Government believes, is to move checks away from the coast and to reduce the number of “unready” drivers reaching the ports, while providing guidance to help them become border ready. It is proposing to use technology to “upstream! the border readiness checking process through the Smart Freight (SF) service. This will be an online tool for the RoRo freight industry which will help to simplify and automate the process of establishing the border-readiness of HCVs and drivers.

It will ask questions relating to the expected EU import controls at the border to ensure drivers have the necessary documents before they travel. The service will include an online portal for registration of goods movements and an operator application to check compliance with the service. Regardless of which British port they planned to leave from, anyone taking goods from GB to the EU (or beyond) could use the SF service to self-check whether they are border-ready, and thus likely to be able to get through the EU port. The portal will be available in multiple languages.