Unite has called for the public release of a government document leaked to the Guardian which details potential queues of up to 7,000 lorries across Kent after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.
Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, said the report – as well as information on potential post-Brexit disruptions around other coastal regions housing major ports – should be released to allow impacted industries, workers, councils and communities time to prepare.
The union, which warned on Monday that government’s mishandling of Brexit customs preparations will result in ‘chaos and confusion’, said it is ‘beyond a joke’ that the report states that national IT systems to handle new border arrangements will not be ready for public testing until 1 November.
Adding to fears that the customs system will not be ready in time, the hauliers trade association, Logistics UK, contradicted the leaked document, saying it had been informed by the government earlier this week that the test version will not be ready until mid-December and that it would not be fully operational until April 2020.
Logistics UK director of policy Elizabeth de Jong said, “News that the government’s much anticipated SMART Freight system is unlikely to be ready by the end of the year, with the BETA version only anticipated for launch in mid-December, is a crushing disappointment for the logistics sector, which will be charged with maintaining the flow of goods across the UK’s borders after the end of the Transition Period on 31 December 2020.
“Logistics UK expressed dismay at today’s revelation that the system will not be fully tested and stable until April 2021 – far too late for the end of the EU transition period at midnight on New Year’s Eve. The government needs to understand the complexity of the UK’s highly interconnected logistics industry and prioritise the allocation of more resources to deliver the system on time, to protect the UK’s supply chain. “
Unite has also expressed concerns that the 29 lorry parks across the UK the government is planning to build will lack proper toilet, washing, food and rest facilities for drivers left waiting for extended periods of time.
While a list of councils (some of them miles away from the coast) that will house the lorry parks has been released, the specific locations of many of the sites have yet to be disclosed to affected local authorities and residents.
Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “Possible queues of 7,000 lorries clogging Kent’s road system will disturb residents, HGV drivers and businesses. The potential level of disruption is scary. End-to-end you’re talking about queues that would stretch from Dover, which accounts for 22 per cent of all trade between the UK and EU, to central London.
“Due to the government’s complete lack of communication or proper consultation it is not known what level of congestion other UK port areas – which handle the remaining 78 per cent of UK-EU sea freight – could be facing.
“The lack of preparedness on the part of government is astounding and it is beyond a joke that the IT systems that are supposed to deal with the border system will not be ready until November, with Logistics UK now stating that the testing launch has now been pushed back until December.
“Drivers are facing huge delays in eleventh-hour lorry parks with no guarantee of a clean toilet, shower or a proper meal. Communities are facing gridlock and businesses are facing supply chains grinding to a halt.
“The government must now release the leaked document on prospective impacts in Kent, as well as similar documents for other port regions across the UK, so workers, communities, councils and businesses can properly prepare.
“Engagement from the government on this issue with trade unions has so far been minimal, with councils and industry also being kept in the dark. Ministers must now get their house in order and work with all stakeholders to ensure cross border operations don’t come to a complete standstill on 1 January.”