LONDON – A new era began without a fuss on Friday morning at the ports and terminals on Britain’s south east coast. Ferries and trains transporting goods from Dover and Folkestone to France ran on time, and the drivers snaked their trucks unloaded into the port.
Apparently little has changed on January 1st, the country’s first day outside the internal market and customs union of the European Union. It was a public holiday, after all, and there wasn’t much to do.
For the first time in over 25 years, goods moving between the UK and the European Union can no longer move freely, and goods entering the block will be subject to customs controls.
A trade agreement signed in the UK in the early hours of December 31st, less than 24 hours before it came into force, means that the country and the European Union will trade goods without tariffs. However, businesses will continue to face significant changes that they had to prepare for even during the lockdowns, closings, and other social restrictions imposed by the government to contain a growing pandemic.
The changes are sure to bring “bumpy moments,” a senior cabinet minister predicted this week. The government estimates that new customs papers alone will cost British companies £ 7 billion (about $ 9.6 billion) a year.
The UK has at least 150,000 exporters who, according to the country’s tax authority, have never shipped their goods beyond the block and are therefore required to file customs declarations for the first time. Border controls within the European Union were abolished in 1993.
This is a change that will be felt immediately in the UK ports, particularly the port of Dover and the Eurotunnel endpoint at Folkestone, which connect the country to France. But on Friday, New Year’s Day, the trains and ferries are said to have run smoothly. Eurotunnel reported that 200 trucks had already used their shuttle train by 8 a.m.
“It seems pretty quiet,” Elizabeth De Jong, the political director of Logistics UK, a trade group, told Sky News on Friday morning.
However, she added that companies are now facing “a new, different language of customs regulations” that need to be understood. She described the next few weeks as a live test, as companies have to ensure that they have the correct documentation for themselves and the goods on board, and traffic into the region has to be controlled.
In the most extreme circumstances, or according to the government, in the worst case, between 40 and 70 percent of trucks going into the European Union may not be ready for the new border controls. This would slow the flow of goods and could result in lines of up to 7,000 trucks driving to the border and delays of up to two days, according to a government report.
Britain has only recently removed a huge backlog of trucks from the border. On late December 20, the French government suddenly closed its border for 48 hours to stop the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus from England. Thousands of trucks and their drivers were stranded for days. Once the border reopened, they had to show a negative coronavirus test before they could enter France.
The delays in the normally fast-paced port have also raised concerns about the UK’s supply of fresh food, much of which is imported from Europe in winter. A fruit supplier urgently arranged for goods to be flown into the country. British fish and shellfish exporters had to mingle to ship their goods to France unaccompanied by drivers before spoiling them.
The spectacle heightened concerns about trading after December 31, the end of the Brexit transition period. Although goods are already moving more slowly because each driver must first take a negative coronavirus test, which can take around 40 minutes to produce results, trucks are unlikely to see thousands of trucks entering France due to the quieter holiday season Wait friday.
“We would expect the persistent disruption to worsen in the first two weeks as freight demand increases,” the government report said. This could take about three months.
Goods entering the European Union from England, Scotland or Wales now require customs controls, including security declarations, and truck drivers need an entry permit for Kent, the county of Dover and Folkestone to confirm they have the necessary documents .
Truck drivers who drive in the other direction initially have to make fewer demands. The UK government has relaxed the rules for goods coming into the country from the European Union for six months.