Published: 09:08, 29 October 2019
| Updated: 09:10, 29 October 2019
The cross-Channel operator says its post-Brexit systems for the ports it operates from - Dover, Calais and Dunkerque - have all been tested successfully.
It comes after the October 31 exit date was pushed back again this week - with the EU granting an extension to January 31.
Freight director at the firm, Wayne Bullen, said: "Nobody knows the outcome, but I do know that ourselves, the ports we use, the relevant authorities, customs and governments have all worked hard to ensure fluidity and avoid a mass of trucks stuck together in one place, which is no good to anybody, on either side of the Channel.
“Equally, we have worked closely with all our freight customers. Like us, large operators have teams working on this and possible outcomes, but there are still many smaller companies and even one-man operations who have not had the opportunity to prepare, and this could cause disruption of the traffic flow during the first weeks after Brexit.
“That is a worry and can’t be allowed to stand, so DFDS has played its part in communicating what freight customers must do.
“Everyone on both sides of the Channel would surely prefer a customs arrangement from October 31 or whenever it takes place, but no business can afford to be caught out, so we must all prepare for the 'no deal' scenario too.”
The full-scale Brexit exercise used real trucks and full ships and was monitored by several trade associations, including the Tunbridge Well-based Freight Transport Association.
On checking in at Dover, all trucks received simulated customs documents, which were scanned by DFDS staff and paired with the booking, allowing the vehicles to proceed. Arrangements in Calais and Dunkerque processed smoothly as well.
Mr Bullen added: “It is a strict requirement that anyone moving goods in and out of the UK has an MRN – Movement Reference Number – for each item exported or imported. That requirement falls to our customer or their agent.
“The MRN is then logged on the freight movement system; without one, nothing will move or indeed be permitted to enter the ports for shipment. It must be stressed that trucks should not approach the ports and seek a secure holding area until they have a viable MRN.
“But there should not be delay if customers have the right documentation. If they go to our trade customers’ website at https://www.dfds.com/en/about/insights/brexit they will find a helpful check for exactly what they need. There is also a list of Q&As they can download and print off for assistance.
“In addition, we have staged webinars that customers can watch and then dial access to experts and advice.”
He added that DFDS can also ‘talk’ in real time to customer drivers via its app launched two years ago and delivering up-to-the-minute information on sailings, when the next ship is available, and when it might be useful to switch to re-route due to congestion in or around one of the ports
“Ultimately, it is a three-step process: One, awareness, two, communication, and three preparation.
“If everyone involved in cross-Channel freight takes those steps, we can all avoid the gloomy predictions of bottlenecks and severe queues."
Mr Bullen also outlined how the original March 29 deadline for Brexit had skewed freight volumes through Dover, due to stockpiling.
He explained: “We ended up shipping far more than anticipated: 390,000 freight vehicles passed through Dover in March this year – the highest ever for a single month – but traffic subsided to just 300,000 in April, 90,000 units less and the quietest month for the past two-and-a-half years.
“If everyone involved in cross-Channel freight takes those steps, we can all avoid the gloomy predictions of bottlenecks and severe queues." - DFDS' Wayne Bullen
“It does make it hard to plan, but I think many importers learned from this March scenario. On the other hand, we are now into the pre-Christmas season when freight naturally ramps up anyway, so volumes will remain buoyant now for the build up to Christmas rather than appearing to fall away due to earlier stockpiling.
“That seasonal pressure and any possible Brexit issues, will highlight the time and money we have invested in our Dunkerque operation."