U.K.’s Brexit Border Avoids Early Snarl-Ups as Trucks Stay Away

The lack of chaos at Britain’s key ports in the days following Brexit may be deceptive, truckers said, as businesses decided to stockpile or delay deliveries, leaving only minimal levels of traffic flowing.

“It’s probably the calm before the storm,” Richard Ballantyne, chief executive officer of the British Ports Association, told Bloomberg Radio on Monday. “It’s always quite quiet after the new year.”

The risk of queues choking ports in the coming weeks is still one of the top concerns of the U.K. government, which fears that traders haven’t prepared properly for the checks and additional paperwork necessary after Brexit. In the Cabinet Office’s worst-case scenario, a line of 7,000 trucks could form, disrupting supplies of food, medicines and chemicals.

So far, though, freight levels have been well below their peak: At Dover, Britain’s busiest crossing point for trucks, an average of 1,000 lorries crossed each day between 7 a.m. on Dec. 31 and 7 a.m. on Jan. 4, according to a spokesperson for the port. In 2019, the daily average was about 6,500. On Monday morning, traffic in Dover was light, with no sign of hold-ups at the Eastern Docks.

The relative quiet is due to the New Year holiday, companies ordering early in anticipation of potential Brexit delays, and a reduction in demand because of France’s move in late December to temporarily close the border, Alex Veitch, general manager of public policy at Logistics UK, said in an interview with Bloomberg Radio.

“The true test starts now,” he said. “We hope for everyone’s benefit that trade gets back up to normal levels.”

Jon Swallow, co-founder of Jordon Freight, which moves goods between the U.K. and EU, said he has delayed most of his truck movements for two weeks to avoid any potential Brexit snarl-ups and opted to avoid Dover where possible.

Swallow said that he wasn’t expecting any problems this week, but -- in a sign of potential trouble ahead -- he said he has received multiple calls from businesses on Monday that believed that they wouldn’t need to file any new paperwork to cross the channel because the U.K. and EU reached a free-trade accord. This is incorrect: Firms will still need to file customs declarations and comply with other new formalities due to Brexit.

“We’re so shocked,” Swallow said. “These are not small companies.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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