Recurring traffic gridlock at Dover is damaging the reputation of the UK overseas as well as to the economy, business and logistics chiefs have said.
Several days of chaos at the port have been blamed on the suspension of sailings by P&O Ferries – but the failure of the Brexit IT system and the burden of new customs checks have also added to the hold-ups.
Food producers have warned perishable goods were going badly losing their value due to congestion, with some saying delays were costing their business up to £800 per lorry.
“We cannot keep seeing this,” said Rod McKenzie, head of policy at the Road Haulage Association (RHA). “It is expensive and damaging to the economy and reputation of the UK. It is time to take decisive action and deal with this long-term problem.”
Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, said Britain had developed a “post-Brexit perception problem”.
I have told the Financial Times: “Businesses that we want to do business with are increasingly seeing us as too much hassle to deal with and that has to change if we are to recover lost ground.”
Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, said his industry could lose customers if the delays stuck in traffic and clearing checks continued.
“Hauliers are reporting that they are struggling to get drivers willing to go to the UK if they are going to get delays getting home again and with the international shortage of drivers they are able to be selective about what jobs they take,” he said.
Several issues have converged to cause a perfect storm at Dover. P&O Ferries suspended operations last month after an attempt to replace 800 staff with lower-paid workers led to criminal and civil probes from UK authorities.
That loss of capacity was exacerbated by 10 days of technical problems with a government customs website which provides documentation needed since Brexit.
The HMRC had “issues” with its new GVMS system for customs declarations needed by hauliers, so drivers lack scannable barcodes needed for the rapid check of lorries for several days.
The revenue and customs service said on Tuesday that the system was back to normal after 10 days. “We apologize for any inconvenience caused whilst we investigated the issue,” HMRC said.
Richard Ballantyne, the head of the British Ports Association, said P&O Ferries’ suspension has been the “main cause” of the traffic congestion but conceded it was also partly down to “Brexit scenarios”.
Environment minister George Eustice rejected calls for a priority lane for lorries carrying fresh food at the weekend. “The right thing to do is to clear this backlog and get things moving again.”
last month The Independent revealed that the government is exploring a delay to new controls on imports set to come in July 2022 because of growing alarm over the cost of living crisis.
Logistics chiefs and local politicians have warned that road congestion in Kent will get worse when further checks come into force in July and September.
The government has asked National Highways to identify new sites for lorries. But ministers have not yet committed to building an extra park.
It comes as one British farmer in Staffordshire said 500 tonnes of beetroot was being left to rot because of a collapse in demand after Brexit.
“I’ve been trying to get rid of it left, right and centre, trying food schemes and various things,” Will Woodhall told the BBC. “But haulage is an issue and no-one wants to pay for it.”