Published: 15:13, 23 September 2020
| Updated: 15:50, 23 September 2020
UK truckers accessing Kent will have to obtain a special pass after Brexit - but that would create a de-facto border inside the Garden of England.
It has previously been reported how customs changes could see 7,000-strong two-day lorry queues build up in the county and today cabinet minister Michael Gove confirmed that was a "worst case scenario" in an address to parliament.
Ironically, such a queue would stretch from Dover to Westminster.
In a bid to stop the county grinding to a halt drivers will need to register for 'Kent Access Permits', which will be needed to get in to Kent.
Police will check they have them and will use number plate recognition to enforce the plan.
But such a process could cause even more holds ups as Mr Gove revealed many businesses "are not prepared".
A website used to register vehicles will go live "in the coming weeks" but 70% of firms aren't ready, he claimed, and with 100 days left until the end of the transition period many think it will be delayed.
As previously reported a huge lorry park is being built at Ashford while the county's biggest Covid-19 testing centre was recently closed to make way for a possible customs check point.
Ashford MP Damian Green asked Mr Gove: "The prospect of 7,000 lorries queueing will send a chill through my constituents as they know what will happen. Can you assure them that the smart freight system required to ensure smooth running of traffic will be up and running by January?"
Mr Gove responded "we'll do our very best to ensure [your constituents] are not inconvenienced."
In response to scathing remarks about a Saxon wall holding up construction at Ashford, as first reported by KentOnline , Mr Green dismissed both the allegation it was of that era - but gave no clarification on how old it actually was - and also the accusation it had delayed the project.
Mr Gove was repeatedly asked how many of the promised 50,000 customs agents have been hired but couldn't answer.
His grilling in the Commons follows accusations by sector chiefs that the country's leaders have failed to do enough in recent weeks over the threat of post-Brexit border delays - namely that the government is not engaging with the industry.
Mr Gove had written to logistics groups with the government’s “reasonable worst-case scenario” planning, which warns of the possible two-day delays for cargo travelling via Dover to France in January.
Studies show 30-50% of trucks crossing the Channel will not be ready for the new regulations coming into force on January 1.
It also states that a “lack of capacity to hold unready trucks at French ports” could reduce the flow of traffic across the strait to 60-80% of normal levels.
Such delays could be in place for at least three months, hauliers have been warned, as alternative routes are sought and supply chains get to grips with the new systems and requirements.
In his letter, Mr Gove said: “Irrespective of the outcome of negotiations between the UK and EU, traders will face new customs controls and processes.
“Simply put, if traders, both in the UK and EU, have not completed the right paperwork, their goods will be stopped when entering the EU and disruption will occur. It is essential that traders act now and get ready for new formalities.”
RHA chief executive Richard Burnett says the government is not engaging with the industry.
Responding to the worst-case scenario document, he said: “We’ve been consistently warning the government that there will be delays at ports but they’re just not engaging with industry on coming up with solutions.
“Traders need 50,000 more customs intermediaries to handle the mountain of new paperwork after transition but government support to recruit and train those extra people is woefully inadequate.
“The answers to the questions that we raised in our letter to Mr Gove and subsequent roundtable meeting last Thursday still remain unanswered – and our concern continues to grow.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “With just 100 days to go until the end of the transition period it’s vital that businesses prepare now for new rules that will come into force at the end of the year, so that they can hit the ground running on January 1 2021 and seize new opportunities.
“As a responsible Government we continue to make extensive preparations for a wide range of scenarios, including the reasonable worst case.
“This is not a forecast or prediction of what will happen but rather a stretching scenario.”