- A no-deal Brexit would cause “chaos” at Britain’s ports, with customs overwhelmed by extra checks. Experts warn of “catastrophic” effect on the UK’s trading systems. No customs deal would cause huge tailbacks from Dover. May’s government is split over whether to prepare for crashing out of the EU without a deal.
LONDON – Crashing out of the European Union with no deal would unleash “disorganisation and chaos” on the Port of Dover, deputy chief executive of Britain’s Freight Transport Association has said.
Speaking to the Financial Times, James Hookham warned that a no-deal Brexit would leave the Dover border crossing in a state of disarray, as significantly increased customs checks would create queues of lorries reaching over 5o miles.
“If you add an average of two minutes to customs processing, you get a 17-mile queue [from Dover] almost back to Ashford,” Hookham explained to the FT. “Another four minutes takes the queue back to Maidstone, six minutes back to the M25, eight minutes and you are up to the Dartford crossing and Essex.”
Brexit Secretary David Davis and Trade Secretary Liam Fox have both this week refused to rule out Britain walking away from Brexit talks without a deal in March 2019, despite the concerns of businesses and fellow MPs.
Davis told MPs that it was "sensible" to prepare for the possibility that there is no deal at the end of Brexit negotiations, while Fox told the BBC that no-deal would "not be the Armageddon that some people project."
A no-deal Brexit would have a number of significant implications for Britain, not least dropping out of the EU's customs union without a replacement UK-EU customs arrangement ready to be implemented.
"Dover is set up for what you might call 'zero friction' and the introduction of EU customs checks could prove a real headache," the Institute for Government's Joe Owen told the FT.
The UK Border Force is faced with a "real headache" as the number of non-EU lorries it must check coming into Britain through Dover would rise massively if British negotiators are unable to agree on a customs arrangement.
The number of lorries needing customs checks could rise from 500 a day to 10,000, Dover worker Tim Dixon told the FT claims. "I don't know how we - or Dover itself - could cope with an increase on that scale,"
"Catastrophic is the word I would use," Dixon said when asked what a no-deal Brexit would mean for Dover border checks. "It puts the shivers up you. It would devastate the local community."
Home Secretary Amber Rudd this week described a no-deal Brexit as "unthinkable" and Dover's MP, Charlie Elphicke, has insisted that "with proper planning we cannot only be ready on day one."
However, various businesses and trade experts are concerned that the two-year time limit on a transitional period outlined in May's Florence speech will not provide enough time for new customs arrangements to be prepared. "A transition period should be at least three years," Anastassia Beliakova, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, told the FT.
"This is important not just for businesses to prepare, but also for new IT systems to be put in place, for [HM Revenue & Customs] to hire and train new staff, for new infrastructure to be built."
This was echoed by UK Trade Facilitation Expert Panel chair Mark Corby, who added: "It will be very tight indeed to get in place the customs systems we need by March 2021, even on the most benign scenario.
"You need three to five years, taking the transition up to 2025, to put in place the untried, streamlined systems ultimately envisaged."