Brexit stockpiling sparks gridlock at British ports

Emily Cleary
·4-min read

The volume of vehicles entering Britain with goods as businesses stockpile ahead of Brexit has rocketed by up to 40% in the past 48 hours.

Long queues of lorries on Kent’s roads have become a familiar sight in recent weeks, but with just two weeks to go until the deadline for Britain to leave the EU, the lack of a trade deal between the two is causing a headache for businesses.

Port of Dover chief executive Doug Bannister warned there is “significant uncertainty” around how prepared companies are for a no-deal Brexit.

He said: “We are a fortnight away from this momentous transition and so everything is going to come right down to the wire.

Queues of vehicles have become a familiar sight at Dover as British businesses stockpile ahead of Brexit (PA)
Queues of vehicles have become a familiar sight at Dover as British businesses stockpile ahead of Brexit (PA)
Lorries wait to board their ferries as a P&O ferry and a DFDS ferry are docked at the port of Dover on the south coast of England on December 18, 2020. - Questions were asked in the House of Lords on December 17 on the government's state of preparedness for Brexit. UK importers are suffering from delays at Felixstowe and Southampton and there are fears of major delays at Dover from the new year. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
Lorries wait to board their ferries on Friday as questions were asked in the House of Lords on the government's state of preparedness for Brexit (Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

“We are going through a really busy period of time right now with the Brexit stockpiling, the diversion of cargo from other ports coming in through our gateway, it is a really important period of time.

“Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been seeing increases of typically between 20 and 25% over this time last year – but we have topped up some bigger numbers, yesterday we approached nearly 40%.”

With the busy Channel port processing about 10,000 lorries every 24 hours, such increases equate to thousands of vehicles.

Lorries queue on the route into the port of Dover to board ferries to Europe, in Dover, Britain December 11, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
The famous white cliffs of Dover set the backdrop for miles of queues of lorries in and out of the port of Dover in Kent as Brits stockpile ahead of Brexit (Reuters)

The M20 in Kent has seen long queues of lorries heading to the border, with tailbacks stretching many miles.

Much of the spike in traffic stems from businesses getting in goods before Christmas, as well as Brexit stockpiling.

And shipments of personal protective equipment have been clogging UK ports, including Felixstowe in Suffolk, causing huge delays compounded by retailers and manufacturers importing goods for the Christmas shopping rush.

However, the increased volume ahead of 31 December may mean that the first weeks of 2021 are calmer for British ports, Bannister suggested.

An aerial view shows a sail boat passing Container ship MSC Maria Saveria docked in the port of Felixstowe, east of London on December 12, 2020. - Food shortages, tailbacks and congested ports: as talks with Brussels remain unresolved three weeks before leaving the EU single market, the UK is preparing for a chaotic "no-deal". (Photo by BEN STANSALL / AFP) (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
And it's not just Dover. An aerial view shows container ship MSC Maria Saveria docked in the port of Felixstowe (Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)
Shipping containers are unloaded from a cargo ship at the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk. Shipments of personal protective equipment have been clogging UK ports, causing huge delays compounded by retailers and manufacturers importing goods for the Christmas shopping rush. (Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)
Shipping containers are unloaded from a cargo ship at the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk. Shipments of personal protective equipment have been clogging UK ports, causing huge delays compounded by retailers and manufacturers importing goods for the Christmas shopping rush. (Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)

“My hope is it allows traders and the hauliers and everyone to become accustomed with the new processes, so that when the volume begins to return again later in the month and into February, that we’ll have a higher proportion of people that can operate in this post-transition period environment.”

Lorries without the proper paperwork could face being turned away from the border from 1 January.

But Bannister said he is confident that Dover will be able to handle any uncertainty.

“Dover has a proven track record to handle disruption in a good successful way, and we are able to manage the disruption and importantly recover the position very swiftly indeed.

“That’s down to the high capacity, high frequency, high pace of our operation.”

Speaking in the European Parliament on Friday, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said it was "the moment of truth" for the two sides to come to an agreement.

Freight lorries drive through the Channel Tunnel freight terminal in Folkestone on the south coast of England on December 18, 2020. - Questions were asked in the House of Lords on December 17 on the government's state of preparedness for Brexit. UK importers are suffering from delays at Felixstowe and Southampton and there are fears of major delays at Dover from the new year. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
Lorries queue for the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone, Kent. UK importers are suffering from delays at Felixstowe and Southampton and there are already jams in and out of Dover ahead of Brexit on 31 December (Ben Stansall/ AFP via Getty Images)
Freight lorries queue at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel Freight terminal in Folkestone on the south coast of England on December 18, 2020. - Questions were asked in the House of Lords on December 17 on the government's state of preparedness for Brexit. UK importers are suffering from delays at Felixstowe and Southampton and there are fears of major delays at Dover from the new year. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
Freight lorries queue at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel Freight terminal in Folkestone on the south coast of England on Friday (Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

He said there was still a "chance" of a deal, but the "path is very narrow".

Boris Johnson said the UK side was willing to "keep talking", but added: "Things are looking difficult and there is a gap that needs to be bridged."

Talks will resume in Brussels between the EU and UK after the prime minister and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke on Thursday night.

The pair had released a joint statement at the weekend vowing to go “the extra mile” to resolve all issues.

Von der Leyen said bridging "big differences", particularly on fishing rights, would be "very challenging", while Johnson said a no deal scenario was "very likely" unless the EU position changed "substantially".

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