Post-Brexit customs chaos fails to materialise

·3-min read
Lorry in Dover
Lorry in Dover

Fears of New Year chaos at Britain’s borders have so far proven unfounded after the introduction of additional post-Brexit customs checks.

Port bosses said there is cautious optimism that the controls imposed on Jan 1 have been rolled out without major disruption for importers, despite warnings that lorries were at risk of being turned away.

Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, said: “Although it has been a fairly quiet start to the year in terms of traffic, traders appear to be following the new rules and the systems seem to be working.

He added that “officials appear to be cautiously optimistic about the new arrangements” but that there were “some isolated instances of minor errors with customs paperwork”.

HMRC said full customs controls were “rolled out in line with our expectations and plans”.

However, industry experts said that problems could still emerge as trade picks up after the festive period and the next wave of checks loom in the summer.

While British exports to the EU are already subject to full customs requirements, deliveries to the UK enjoyed a lighter touch approach last year.

That changed on Saturday when new regulations were introduced covering goods arriving from the EU.

Full customs import declarations are now needed for items at the time they enter Great Britain. Importers must also prove goods can qualify for tariff-free entry by meeting rules of origin arrangements that specify how much of a product must be made within the EU.

Importers must give authorities advance warning over animal and plant products, while EU hauliers have to be given authorisation for entry into the UK.

The smooth start suggests that warnings of disruption by trade experts may have been overblown.

Lorries queuing in Dover - Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Lorries queuing in Dover - Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Among those to raise concerns were Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, who said last month that awareness of the coming changes was low. Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, warned on New Year's Day that the extra paperwork could spark "further supply chain chaos".

Anna Jerzewska, founder of Trade & Borders, a customs consultancy, told Bloomberg: “I don’t think we’ll see complete chaos - but there will be some disruptions."

James Sibley of the Federation of Small Businesses said disruption from the latest set of rules could still emerge following a “slow trickle of problems” when previous changes were made last year.

“We would expect problems to start being reported as the month goes on really, as X supplier from the EU got the paperwork wrong, or [they’re] not able to provide the right data,” he said.

Sam Lowe, trade expert at Flint Global, said the latest controls are “largely administrative, so result in more cost and bureaucracy for importers into Great Britain, rather than literal checks”.

The industry has warned disruption to trade is more likely in July when the next set of post-Brexit trading rules are introduced.

Meat and plant products from the EU will need export health certificates and could face physical checks at UK border control posts.

Mr Ballantyne said: “This will be where there could definitely be trade disruption and extra costs for UK importers."

The Telegraph understands that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is holding a call with industry groups on Wednesday to discuss the food supply chain, including how the customs changes have affected the industry and the impact of staff shortages.

A HMRC spokesman said: “Full customs controls are now in place, which have been rolled out in line with our expectations and plans. We will continue to work closely with ports and carriers to monitor the situation.”

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