A customs clearance manager explains why lorries are piling up around the port, and the mood among those working on the frontline

“I don’t see it getting any better. If anything, I see it getting a lot worse.”

Oscar (not his real name), who works on customs in Dover, is under no doubt about the cause of recent problems at the port: Brexit.

Over the past week, photos have been circulating widely on social media, showing lorries queuing for miles en route to Dover.

The tailback stretched for six miles west of Dover at midday on 19 January, according to Highways England, activating the Operation Travel Access Protocol (TAP) – which instructs lorry drivers to occupy the left-hand lane of the A20 on the run-up to the port.

“You can be passing anything from one mile to 14/15 miles of lorries queued in the left-hand lane,” Oscar says. “And you don’t know until that morning whether the situation is going to be bad or not. Roads are being closed in Dover and Folkestone – everywhere is congested. There’s just nowhere for these lorries to go.”

The Government claims that the problems have not been caused by Brexit – and has instead pointed to the refitting of a ship in Dover “[reducing] capacity across the short straits”, alongside “higher than expected freight volumes.”

However, Oscar believes that the Government is focusing on a minuscule part of the problem – ignoring the Brexit-shaped elephant in the room.

The explanations offered by the Government are “maybe 5% true”, according to Oscar. The cause of 95% of the problems, however, is “the red tape which is now necessary because we left the EU”. “The jobs that were taking five minutes can now take over an hour to do,” he told Byline TV.

Notably, new customs rules came into place on 1 January – requiring businesses to make upfront customs declarations and payments, including filling out health and phytosanitary certificates,when they seek to move their produce. Previously, importers and exporters were allowed to delay these declarations, easing any possible logjams at UK ports.

The Government also recently introduced a new customs system – the Goods Vehicle Movement System (GVMS) – to process lorries through ports. However, this hasn’t not helped to ease the pressures, Oscar says.

“It doesn’t really help, it makes our jobs harder,” he says. “I’d say my workload has doubled since 1 January this year.”

The chaos at Dover, and the denial of its true causes, is generating consternation and upheaval among those forced to work on the frontline.

“People are quitting left, right and centre – and they have been for the last year,” Oscar says. “There’s a lot of shouting in the office; there’s a lot of swearing in the office; there’s a lot of confusion.”

Ultimately, the issue is simple.

The UK was previously a member of the EU customs union, which enabled the standardisation of trading standards and border controls – allowing goods to be moved with ease across the continent. After Brexit, however, the UK (minus Northern Ireland) has left the customs union – creating new requirements for goods to be checked and monitored as they move between the UK and the EU.

And this isn’t just a localised problem – the extra checks and delays will push up costs suffered by importers and exporters, which will ultimately be passed on to consumers. This at a time when the country is already on the brink of a cost of living crisis.

From July 2022, goods traded between the UK and the EU will also undergo stricter checks – meaning that the turmoil is set to continue for months.

“The only way I can see it improving is if we rejoin the EU,” Oscar says, “which I don’t think is going to happen in our lifetime.”


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