Angry lorry drivers have accused government minister Michael Gove, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster of ‘blame shifting’ as he tells them to prepare paperwork for ports post-Brexit – an impossible task as the required government systems are not yet ready.
As the post-Brexit as chaos looms at the UK’s ports Gove warned of disruption, “if traders have not completed the right paperwork”.
The problem is though as many freight firms and Unite have told him, this is simply not possible as government systems for online paperwork are still not ready.
There are nine different solutions that are being put in place, including the main Smart Freight system – but so far they all remain untested by the industry – despite the deadline being less than 100 days away.
Firms fear they will not receive prototypes until days before the end of the UK’s 11-month transition phase on December 31.
Gove has said up to 7,000 lorries could end up clogging the roads around Dover and the Channel Tunnel. He also announced drivers will need a Kent Access Permit – dubbed “Kermit” by lorry drivers – to enter the county. It will be enforced using number plate recognition.
Over 8,000 haulage firms and 85,000 exporters will need to complete electronic forms to reach the port of Dover – or face £300 fines. “If traders have not completed the paperwork, their goods will be stopped. It is essential they get ready,” said Gove.
Both the Road Haulage Association and Logistics UK, which represents exporters, say his message has been designed to camouflage government failures and have joined Unite in condemning this complete government shambles.
“I welcome the government’s publication of its reasonable worst-case scenario, which Unite called for last week,” said Unite national officer, Adrian Jones. “However,” he added, “the publication of the document and Mr Gove’s speech to MPs on September 23 will not have provided any reassurance for Unite’s HGV driver members, industry or the communities who stand to be impacted by looming traffic and trade chaos at our borders.
“Mr Gove appeared to be warning cross-border traders and hauliers that it would be their fault if the scenarios contained within the government’s Brexit document, including queues of up to 7,000 lorries in Kent, come to fruition.
‘Full of holes’
“The fact that there will be a de-facto internal border in Kent for lorry drivers, enforced by the police, is another sign that government is planning to avoid responsibility for its own mismanagement. It is outrageous that drivers, who are not required to prepare customs documentation, will be liable for fines because their employers got the paperwork wrong or the government’s preparations are full of holes,” said Jones.
He continued, “It is of course incumbent on businesses to ready themselves, but part of that preparation is familiarity with the complex new IT systems and border arrangements that, given the government’s dire record on software development, may not even be fit for purpose by the New Year.
“It is worrying that Mr Gove could not give a straight answer on when the digital Smart Freight system will be ready for launch, especially given the warnings from logistics operators that a test version isn’t expected until December. Nor did Mr Gove provide any substantial detail on the 29, as yet mostly unbuilt, Brexit lorry parks.
“As a matter of urgency, the government must provide a detailed update on how far along its IT customs systems are, including identifying which private contractors are involved with designing them, publish the specific locations of the lorry parks and properly engage on this issue with unions, industry, local government and communities.
“The end of the transition period is rapidly approaching, and the country cannot afford another repeat of Mr Gove’s evasive answers and blame-shifting. Unless there is significant change of direction from ministers, Unite’s HGV driver members face being stranded for days, more than likely without clean toilets, showers or decent food, with the knock-on consequences causing gridlock and doing untold damage to the economy.”
By Ryan Fletcher and Amanda Campbell