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Log-jam at ports

UK firms halt supplies amid Irish border chaos

Percy Pig

Percy Pig has become a victim of Brexit paperwork

UPDATE 9 JAN: Marks & Spencer and Debenhams are among a number of UK companies which have suspended supplies to Northern Ireland because of delays caused by Brexit red tape.

M&S said it feared its food would not reach its destination and therefore it would temporarily halt shipments.

Problems are also mounting for retailers that use the UK as a distribution hub for European business which face possible tariffs if they re-export goods to the EU.

M&S chief executive Steve Rowe said: “The best example I can give you of that is Percy Pig.

“Percy Pig is actually manufactured in Germany. If it comes to the UK and we then send it to Ireland, in theory it would have some tax on it.”

The tax implication has also hit exports of the sweets to stores in France and the Czech Republic.

The rules of origin requirement has also persuaded Debenhams to stop shipping goods to Northern Ireland.

Other retailers, including John Lewis and TKMaxx, have identified similar problems – and have suspended some of their European sales.

Parcels giant DPD has suspended some services, while Scottish seafood exporter John Ross said the chaos at ports was like being “thrown in the cold Atlantic without a lifejacket”.

Most hauliers are being caught without the required paperwork. While the trade deal avoids tariffs and quotas, companies now require documentation such as export health certificates and declarations.

The Road Haulage Association, the trade body representing road transport and freight logistics operators, told the Evening Standard in London the “real extent of the impact this red tape is having on industry and businesses” will only start to be felt in the coming weeks because volumes for import and export are at the lowest point in the year.

Traffic through the port of Dover is currently down 85% from its 2019 average and some firms were stockpiling before the Brexit deadline.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove admitted on Friday that although disruption at Britain’s borders has not yet been “too profound”, “it is the case that in the weeks ahead, we expect that there will be significant additional disruption – particularly on the Dover-Calais route”.

Tavish Scott

Tavish Scott: ‘confusion everywhere’ (pic: Terry Murden)

Tavish Scott, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, said: “Had a deal been concluded even a couple of months ago, that would have given our producers and hauliers the time to test out the new systems, trial the paperwork and get everything in place.

“As it is, we have had lorry loads of salmon stuck in Scotland, waiting for the right paperwork, we have seen delays in France because of IT problems in bringing in whole new systems and confusion everywhere.”

Some ferries serving the Republic of Ireland have been booked up as traders avoid Britain to get to and from Europe.

One Irish port recorded a sixfold increase in freight on direct routes with Europe this week, while traffic on Irish Sea routes has halved.

At the same time there was a 50% decline in freight volumes between Rosslare Europort and Fishguard in Wales as businesses and transport companies avoided the new post-Brexit customs and regulatory controls at the EU-UK border.

There have been 1,148 freight units carried on 18 direct sailings between Rosslare and Dunkirk and Cherbourg in France with DFDS and Stena and to Bilbao in Spain on Brittany Ferries between 2-7 January compared with 197 units on three services last year.

Rosslare Europort told the Irish Times it was speaking to other shipping lines about setting up new direct services given the level of interest in avoiding Brexit checks through Britain.

The Republic has temporarily eased customs checks to allow lorries from Britain to get goods to market.

Amid claim and counter claim over who is responsible for vehicles being turned away at ports, the republic’s revenue department said part of the blame rested with businesses which had failed to prepare for the Brexit change.

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It said British firms had not understood the extra requirements they should have known about in advance.

Customs arrangements were relaxed to help ease a backlog of lorries already building up in England and Wales.

Exporters can use an emergency movement reference number (MRN) to allow them to board ferries if they are unable to complete all the necessary paperwork.

The Irish Road Haulage Association claimed IT systems are not working properly and had not been tested, an assertion rejected by the Revenue department.

The Revenue said that its systems were “operating fully and correctly” and that “without exception” every system-related query that it has investigated “was a user error rather than a system error”.

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Hauliers which would normally cross from Holyhead in Wales to Dublin and drop off goods north and south of the border are choosing to reroute through Scotland and cross to Northern Ireland instead to try to avoid delays, according to The Independent.

Another problem is a shortage of vets to carry out required checks on food consignments. Also, the customs system does not allow for a whole consignment to be declared under one number. Instead, declarations need to be made for each type of good that is being transported, creating a significant burden of administrative work.

Seamus Leheny, policy manager at Logistics UK, said implementing customs controls and food safety controls together on 1 January “is just too much”.

“The problem is that suppliers of produce are not ready. When goods are being collected in England, those goods are not ready. The customs haven’t been done, the SPS [food safety control] hasn’t been done.

“The message just hasn’t got through what they need to do.”

See also

Row grows over fish exports



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