The uk government has warned industry there could be two-day delays in getting freight across the channel after the end of the brexit transition period, with queues of up to 7,000 lorries in kent.
The reasonable worst-case scenario of possible disruptions was shared in a letter to industry from michael gove, the cabinet minister in charge of brexit implementation, in a bid to encourage industry to prepare for new border rules on january 1 2021.
It is essential that traders act now and get ready for new formalities, said mr gove, revealing government estimates that up to 50 per cent of trucks arriving at dover and the channel tunnel will not have the correct paperwork.
The letter, seen by the financial times, warned that flow rates across the dover-calais short strait, which handles up to 10,000 trucks a day, could fall by up to 80 per cent at the peak of disruption, which might last up to three months.
A more relaxed approach than expected by french customs controls or reduced flow rates caused by the covid-19 pandemic could reduce the impact of the changes, the advice added.
Whitehall officials said that mr goves letter was part of a shock and awe campaign to try to jolt businesses into making preparations for significant new border changes on january 1 which the minister pointed out would come in irrespective of whether or not london concludes a trade deal with the eu this autumn.
Make uk, the manufacturers organisation, has estimated that 270m new customs declarations will need to be filled in each year after brexit, at an estimated cost of 15bn according to projections from hm revenue & customs.
However, the logistics and freight industry has grown increasingly frustrated with the governments failure to provide adequate information for businesses to make the necessary preparations.
Among the concerns are the readiness of new it systems, including a new smartfreight web portal that will help drivers determine if their paperwork is in order prior to heading into kent. there will be 300 fines for setting off without correct documents but the beta rollout of the system is not due to start until november.
Similarly, industry insiders complain that basic guidance, such as how to apply to be eligible for simplified customs procedures or duty deferment accounts, has still not been published. when asked last week by the ft when it would be published, the cabinet office said only in due course.
Industry has estimated that the uk will need 50,000 new customs agents but while the government has put up 84m in grant funding, the customs trade association has warned that the money is far from sufficient to incentivise brokers to take on enough extra staff.
A recent survey by the british international freight association (bifa), the industry group that is the main provider of customs training in the uk, found that nearly two-thirds of brokers said they would not have enough staff on january 1 to meet demand up from 50 per cent in may.
Other basic information, such as the levels of domestic content needed in a manufactured good to secure duty-free access to the eu under a trade deal so called rules of origin are still being negotiated in brussels.
The government has also still not provided the haulage and logistics industry with basic information on what function new inland customs sites will be able to perform, according to two major freight forwarding companies which asked to remain anonymous.
Mr gove was confronted by frustrated industry bosses last week who had demanded an urgent roundtable meeting to push the government to move faster and provide basic information needed for them to prepare for the changes ahead.
According to three people who attended the meeting, mr gove said it was up to businesses to invest and prepare for the new opportunities of brexit, but received strong pushback for failing to heed repeated industry warnings that the government was moving too slowly.
The government has launched a new communications campaign based around the slogan check, change, go, which also stresses the new opportunities of brexit but which does not dwell on the huge amount of new red tape that will stem from leaving the eu single market.
A report this week on the effects of no deal by uk in a changing europe, a think-tank, warned of significant change coming, but that the new campaign, with its focus on trade opportunities, abjectly fails to communicate this.