Were there hold-ups in first week after Brexit?

  • By Anthony Reuben
  • BBC Reality Check

Image source, Reuters

It's been a week since the UK ended its transition period and completed its separation from the European Union.

British companies found themselves having to fill out customs forms to export to European countries, but we have not seen big queues on motorways in Kent that some feared.

View from the scene

Simon Jones, BBC News, in Dover

In many ways, it's been business as usual at the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel. A steady stream of lorries has been boarding ferries and trains to France.

But the new year has also brought new checks for hauliers. Predictions of gridlock in Kent have failed to materialise, but traffic is still exceptionally low - probably down to stockpiling in the run up to Christmas.

As more hauliers return to the roads, the new system will face sterner tests - particularly as Covid testing for anyone wanting to travel to France is set to continue for at least another couple of weeks.

The Department for Transport said at least 90% of lorries trying make the Dover-Calais ferry crossing or going through the Channel Tunnel had the correct paperwork, including proof of a negative test for coronavirus.

But on Thursday, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) told BBC News that about one in five trucks were being turned away.

And the ferry company DFDS tweeted on Friday: "We are experiencing a high volume of vehicles being refused and delayed at the Ports of Calais, Dunkerque and Dover, due to incorrect paperwork being presented at check-in."

The RHA estimated that there were about 2,000 lorries a day in each direction making the Dover-Calais ferry crossing and going through the Channel Tunnel compared with a normal daily figure of between 5,000-6,000.

Image source, PA Media

John Glen, chief economist for the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, told BBC News he had heard from customs clearance agents working in Dover that there was a lack of preparation from businesses and a lack of capacity from the customs brokers that businesses have been employing to help.

That is expected to improve over time, but people involved "are worried that demand will increase faster than capacity does", he said.

The boss of Sainsbury's also said that while the flow of goods had been going well so far the real test would be in a few weeks when there were normal levels of traffic.

John Glen added that many of the problems before Christmas had been because ports such as Felixstowe and Southampton had been log-jammed, partly because dock staff had been off sick. That meant ships had been avoiding UK ports and dropping containers off in Antwerp or Zeebrugge instead, leaving them to be transported by road, which increased the problems for roll-on roll-off ports such as Dover.

The Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove says "significant additional disruption" is expected at the border in the coming weeks, particularly on the Dover-Calais route.

He said the government would have to "redouble our efforts to communicate the precise paperwork that's required" and acknowledged that there were "specific challenges" facing the UK seafood sector.

There have been reports of other issues in the first week:

  • Business leaders said there had been "significant problems" with goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Six lorries on the first ferry arriving in Belfast on 1 January were delayed because of incomplete paperwork
  • While the UK government managed to roll over most of the third country trade deals it had as part of the EU that did not include Ghana. It was mentioned in Parliament this week that a tariff (or import tax) of £17,500 had been charged at Portsmouth on a shipment of bananas from Ghana
  • There has been confusion about customs declarations on parcels going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, with some retailers such as John Lewis suspending deliveries. Northern Ireland Economy Minister Diane Dodds wrote to the UK government saying: "there is significant cause for concern from both businesses and consumers"
  • The Japanese carmaker Honda suspended production at its Swindon factory blaming global supply delays. It had also done so in December due to congestion at ports
  • Parents of children with severe epilepsy said they had no longer been able to get their prescriptions for a particular medicinal cannabis oil from the Netherlands. The health secretary said he was working with the Dutch government to find a solution
  • Some specialist online retailers in EU countries have stopped delivering to the UK saying that they would face higher costs and increased bureaucracy to comply with UK tax authorities
  • Trading in shares in companies in EU countries that had previously taken place in London moved to exchanges in other European countries
  • The Federation of Small Businesses says a lot of UK firms have temporarily suspended EU imports and exports to see how new changes bed in before deciding on next steps.