Published: 15:05, 13 January 2021
| Updated: 15:26, 13 January 2021
MPs have been warned that the scope for disruption and delays around the Channel ports is huge despite the fact that the widely-anticipated congestion has so far not materialised.
Food and retail industry chiefs said that while traffic was flowing freely to and from the ports, there was likely to be disruption once normal levels of lorries crossing to and from Europe resumed.
MPs were quizzing representatives of the retail and food industry sectors at a meeting of the all-party Brexit committee today.
Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said it would be wrong to assume that there would not be problems in the future.
“Will it get worse? The short answer is yes because volumes are so low at the moment. Currently there are about 2000 lorries crossing the short straits and there should be around 10,000 so the opportunity for the scale of concerns to rise is huge. The whole panoply of bureaucracy was not in place [over Christmas] and that is the big difference.”
Asked what lessons had been learned from the gridlock that paralysed Dover in the run-up to Christmas after the French authorities stopped lorries crossing, he said: “The Dover situation tells you one thing and that is that it takes only a small amount of time for the system across the short straits to get into difficulty.
“Hauliers stayed outside the Kent cordon because they knew they would not get access to food, water and toilets. So they had parked up in the south east..the backlog was still being cleared on New Year's Eve, so we shouldn’t kid ourselves.”
'The backlog was still being cleared on New Year's Eve, so we shouldn’t kid ourselves...'
Andrew Opie, director of the British Retail Consortium, said: “All retailers are looking very closelyat the channel ports to see whether thedisruption we were anticipating is going to happen. But at this stage the disruption to the British is very limited.”
He added the government was considering giving priority to lorries that were empty to speed up return journeys: “The problem is empty lorries going back to Spain or Portugal or Holland to bring back the next consignment of fresh produce.”
Stephen Gibson, chief executive of Make UK, said: “What we haven't seen is the scale and we will start to see that at the end of the month. There has been a lot in the media about the fact that we’ve not seen delays at the border but the volume of traffic has been very low.”
There was also concern that too few customs agents had been recruited to help hauliers with the new arrangements after Brexit.
Ian Wright said the industry was “nowhere near” reaching the government's target.