Disruption at Britain’s gateways has been limited since Britain officially left the EU on December 31, but this has been largely attributed to a combination of low trade volumes thanks to stockpiling, the Christmas break and latitude from European customs officials.
However, this week is expected to reveal the true strain Brexit will place on international trade. The number of trucks going through the Dover and the Channel Tunnel is running at about 2,500 a day – low compared to peak times of the year but far higher than over past weeks.
Elizabeth de Jong of Logistics UK said: “Freight volumes across the Dover Straits have been lower than usual for the time of year, but are expected to rise steadily this week.
“While the number of vehicles being refused passage has been very low in percentage terms, this will be the week which really tests whether planning, understanding and systems are sufficient.
“Because the volumes are so low, and possibly last week 40pc less than we’d normally have at this time of year, we’ve not really been able to test those systems so currently there’s enough staff.”
The National Audit Office warned in November that UK border facilities were likely to be at “minimum operating capability” in time for Britain leaving the EU, but said systems to reduce disruption were “still developing, with various issues yet to be resolved”.
Haulage industry sources described complex new customs procedures as “being tested in real time” and expressed amazement at so few trucks being turned back.
This was attributed to the unusually low volumes of trade, with many exporters “sitting on their hands and waiting to see how the situation plays out”, according to one.