Brexit Risks Embroiling U.K.’s Ports in an Even Bigger Snarl-Up

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The hundreds of trucks lined up on roads across Kent are just a taster of the even greater disruption likely to follow Britain’s final break with the European Union, representatives from the U.K.’s logistics industry said.

Routes to Dover, Britain’s busiest cross-channel port, have been choked for days after France shut its border with Britain, blaming an outbreak of a novel strain of the coronavirus.

Brexit Risks Embroiling U.K.’s Ports in an Even Bigger Snarl-Up

“This kind of chaos, and this kind of delay, could easily be a presaging of what is to come,” Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, told Bloomberg Television on Tuesday. “It’s lifting the curtain a little on the chaos that could happen if it all goes horribly wrong.”

Even if Britain and the EU sign a trade deal, firms sending goods to the bloc will, from Dec. 31, have to file new paperwork, including customs declarations. That will introduce delays which risk being compounded as vehicles without the right documents are stopped and turned away from the ports. The government is bracing for a 7,000-truck-long snarl-up.

The upheaval from Brexit could be greater because, unlike this week’s temporary disruption, leaving the EU will bring permanent changes in the form of additional border checks. These will affect all of Britain’s trade routes into the EU at the same time, rather than being a single blockage on a route to France, said Duncan Buchanan, policy director at the Road Haulage Association.

‘All-Embracing’

“This is all-embracing, all-encompassing, it’s a fundamental change,” Buchanan said, noting that most disruptions -- such as the current one -- only last a short while. “We’re not used to dealing with a supply chain disruption which is more than a few days, or a week, in length.”

Prolonged hold-ups at ports would threaten supplies of fresh food into the U.K., and would also cause havoc for manufacturers such as car-makers which rely on just-in-time supply chains. Earlier this month, Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co. temporarily closed its factory in Swindon, England, due to delays to parts arriving.

“The delays we’re seeing in Kent are a taste of what could happen if businesses fail to prepare,” said Marco Forgione, director general at the Institute of Export and International Trade. In December, a survey of 960 company executives by the Institute of Directors, one of Britain’s biggest business lobby groups, found that only 26% of respondents said they were fully prepared for Brexit.

The U.K. government has set up a border operations center to monitor the flow of traffic post-Brexit. With many firms canceling deliveries in January to avoid the worst of the disruption, officials expect that it could take a few weeks for major back-ups to build.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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