Brexit, a logistical nightmare for British businesses

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“It’s a total mess”: British companies, like this boss of a road transport SME, are engaged in a race against time to prepare for Brexit, which becomes reality on 1er January, and therefore without certainty of being able to cross the European border.

For Terry Goodwin, preparations for D-Day, which will mark the UK’s exit from the single European market after a year of transition, have a bitter taste as his company, Conference Haul International, is struggling to recover from the shock of the pandemic.

In a corner of wooded English countryside in Chobham, southwest London, its pristine yellow heavyweights are lined up, testifying to slow-moving activity and an uncertain future amid the health crisis that has plagued orders for two sides of the Channel.

“It hurts my stomach”, launches the general manager of this logistician, specialized in the transport of material for business conferences and whose trucks used to crisscross Europe.

“We are trying to prepare for Brexit by asking ourselves what documents we will need to go to Europe. All this causes us a lot of problems, ”he told AFP.

This situation is pushing companies to stockpile on both sides of the border, particularly industry and food, which in recent days has resulted in monster heavy truck traffic jams near the port of Dover.

Knowing that the situation could worsen on 1er January, the government urgently built large parking lots in Kent and even imposed an access permit in this region.

“Agreement or not, it is impossible to have a border that functions well on the 1er January for road transport. The UK is late, European companies are anything but ready, ”Duncan Buchanan, an official at the Road Haulage Association, warned on Twitter last weekend.

“So many documents”

Motor carrier customers are also in a cold sweat as the deadline approaches.

“There will be forms to fill out, but we do not know what customs duties it will be necessary to put on it”, sighs Michael Allen, boss of the British company MJ Allen, based in Kent and which supplies auto parts in Europe.

If he fears traffic jams at the border, “my greatest fear is the customs duties”, which will be imposed in the event of a “no deal”, he tells AFP, because they are the ones who could , in addition to the uncertainty, convincing some customers to opt for suppliers located in the EU.

In the immediate future, carriers are trying to navigate the administrative twists and turns of Brexit, which puts an end to nearly 50 years of barrier-free exchanges with the continent: in addition to paperwork, they need to have the right software, request specific permits.

Road hauliers will probably need an ECMT (European Conference of Ministers of Transport) permit to enter Europe. Mr. Goodwin’s company has applied twice without success, but the European Commission has just granted a grace period until the end of June on this permit.

“There are so many documents to fill out,” sighs Mr. Goodwin, who can turn to industry associations for help or delve into the nearly 300-page documentation made available by the government.

“We work a lot from home in addition to office hours,” says Jon Chaplin, Terry Goodwin’s right-hand man at Conference Haul.

“At the end of the day, you have to be ready because otherwise you won’t cross the border, it’s that simple,” he concludes fatalistically.

Once this puzzle has been accomplished upstream, customs want to believe in fluid traffic at the border.

On the other side of the Channel, at the port of Calais, dozens of customs officers have been recruited and investments made in infrastructure and a “smart border” system.

Trucks coming from England will present a barcode at Dover, which, once scanned, will be passed on to French customs and determine the lane they will take when disembarked.

“Fluidity has been our central concern” promises Benoît Rochet, Deputy Managing Director of the Port of Calais.

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