Post-Brexit IT glitch at HMRC adds to lorry chaos in Kent as P&O ferries resume sailing

Problems with a key post-Brexit IT system for customs checks are contributing to Easter traffic chaos in Kent as thousands of lorries are parked up awaiting Channel crossings.

A 23-mile coastbound stretch of the M20 was closed from junction eight (Maidstone) to junction 11 (Westenhanger) heading for the Port of Dover or Eurotunnel as part of Operation Brock, causing chaos on surrounding local roads.

The A20 Roundhill Tunnel is closed under the Dover TAP scheme to prevent HGVs jumping the queue.

Some delays to Channel crossings are being driven by the suspension of P&O Ferries sailings after the operator sacked nearly 800 seafarers without notice last month, with rival DFDS warning it no longer has capacity to take stranded P&O customers.

However, the Road Haulage Association said HMRC is “continuing to have issues” with its new post-Brexit GVMS system for customs declarations, without which lorries cannot move goods between Britain and the EU.

Without the system, drivers lack scannable barcodes needed for the rapid check of lorries at ports including Dover.

A temporary workaround could be in place until Monday, the RHA said.

An HMRC spokesperson said: “We have put in place contingency processes to ensure businesses can keep goods and freight moving while we return to full service.”

A message on the HMRC site says: “We are undertaking robust investigations into our systems to address the underlying issues behind this outage. We will provide a further update by midday, Monday 11 April. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”

Operation Brock involves using a moveable barrier to create a contraflow system enabling lorries to queue and other traffic to keep moving in both directions.

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However, the system has been overwhelmed, with Kent hit by long queues every day since 1 April when poor weather also disrupted crossings.

The Port of Dover said in a statement it handled 30,000 departing passengers last weekend, which was a three-fold increase on the total during the corresponding weekend in 2021.

It added it is “expecting another busy weekend” as it urged customers not to arrive before their booked sailing.

Trevor Bartlett, leader of Dover District Council, said the port will be “under severe pressure throughout the busy Easter getaway” as he residents warned to prepare for “some disruption again this weekend”.

He said he has “made it clear” to Kent Police, Kent County Council and the Kent Resilience Forum – a partnership of local organizations and agencies – that “we will not tolerate another weekend of gridlock in Dover”.

The Conservative councilor went on: “For too long, local disruption residents and businesses have had to endure and, quite frankly, deserve better.

“We share your concerns about the impact of gridlock on local businesses and access to vital health and social care for our most vulnerable residents.

“Many are rightly worried about how the emergency services would be able to respond to a major incident when all routes into the town are effectively cut off.”

Ashford MP Damian Green called for changes to be made to Operation Brock.

He told KentOnline: “What we need is to make Brock work. We have established that up until now it does work, even in times of stress, because the motorway is kept open.

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“Once you close the motorway it makes it impossible, so the Kent Resilience Forum needs to look at what changes need to happen so Brock can cope with what is a very unusual situation, where more than half of the freight-carrying capacity at Dover has disappeared in one time.”

P&O Ferries announced on Wednesday that it is preparing to resume cross-Channel sailings.

A spokesman said: “P&O is looking forward to welcoming back vital services and we expect to have two of our vessels ready to sail on the Dover-Calais route by next week, subject to regulatory sign-off, namely both the Pride of Kent and Spirit of Britain between Dover-Calais.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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