UK ports will be plunged into ‘chaos and confusion’ in the new year unless decisive government action is taken over incomplete IT systems to deal with post-Brexit customs and ‘eleventh-hour’ plans to build up to 29 lorry parks across the country to handle subsequent delays, Unite warned today (Monday 14 September). 

Computerised post-Brexit customs systems are still under development, with drivers, unions and industry fearing that the complex software will not be ready by the time the UK’s transition phase with the EU ends on 31 December 2020, particularly in light of repeated delays to the government's coronavirus contract tracing app

In addition, the vast majority of the lorry parks, which do not need local authority planning permission and will be used to check documentation is in order and control traffic-flow into ports, are still to be built. While a list of councils (some of them miles away from the coast) that will house the lorry parks has been released, the specific locations of many of the sites have yet to be disclosed to affected local authorities and residents.    

Unite also said it was ‘completely unacceptable’ that lorry drivers, who are not responsible for preparing customs declarations for their loads, face being personally liable for £300 fines if they are found to be travelling through Kent to the Port of Dover or the Eurotunnel in Folkstone without the correct electronic documentation. 

It is feared that similar measures could be considered in other parts of the UK if congestion around ports becomes severe.

The union urged the government to meet with its HGV driver members, who keep the country’s vital supply lines operating, and act on ‘their very real concerns’.

Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “HGV drivers know that the government’s as yet incomplete post-Brexit customs system and the eleventh-hour preparations for lorry parks needed to handle expected border delays will result in chaos and confusion. 

“This government’s record on delivering computerised systems is beyond a joke so it’s no wonder that our members are concerned that the system will not only be a last-minute fix but may not even be fit for purpose.

“With less than four months to go, the locations of the vast majority of the lorry parks have still not been announced, let alone built. Local authorities across the country are in the dark and warning about the potential impact on traffic flow and local business and services – concerns which are shared by our members.  

“Drivers are also facing the increasing likelihood of being stuck in their cabs for hours and hours on end in ad-hoc lorry parks without adequate access to clean toilets, washing, food or rest facilities. Smelly porta-loos, some outdoor sinks and a burger van will not suffice.  

“Given that employers, customs agents and drivers will have to familiarise themselves with complex new border arrangements, it is completely unacceptable that lorry drivers, who are not responsible for arranging customs declarations, could face personal fines of up to £300 for not having the correct electronic documentation while driving in Kent.  

“On the current trajectory, we could see the country’s major trading points slow to crawl; causing gridlock, damaging the economy and inflicting misery and stress on lorry drivers and local communities alike. 

“As a priority, our members need government guarantees that they will not be left stranded with inadequate facilities on giant lorry parks or be unfairly fined for documentation issues that are out of their hands. We urge the government to meet with our members, who keep this country’s shelves filled and factories stocked, and act on the very real concerns they have.

“With just weeks to go before the end of the transition period the government must provide clarity and work with local authorities, industry and trade unions to minimise disruption.”


Notes to editors: 

The following local authorities are expected to house Brexit lorry parks:

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council

Cheshire East Council

Cheshire West and Chester Council

Devon County Council

Dorset Council

East Riding of Yorkshire Council

East Sussex County Council

Essex County Council

Halton Borough Council

Hampshire County Council

Hull City Council

Kent County Council

Lancashire County Council

Leicestershire County Council

Liverpool City Council

Medway Council

North East Lincolnshire Council

North Lincolnshire Council

Plymouth City Council

Portsmouth City Council

Salford City Council

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council

Somerset County Council

Southampton City Council

Suffolk County Council

Thurrock Council

Trafford Council

Warrington Borough Council

Warwickshire County Council

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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.