Saturday, January 16

‘I’m stuck here’: truckers in Calais start to feel the effects of Brexit | Brexit

Roger White arrived in France at 2.30pm Tuesday with a truckload of Somerset hard cheese.

Before Brexit, he would have got off the Eurotunnel train and followed the A16 towards Belgium, unloading his goods a few hours later at his final destination in Utrecht.

But 24 hours after hitting European soil, the 69-year-old Yeovil driver is still sitting in his taxi at the Eurotunnel complex in Calais after he was asked to back up to a special unloading bay at a border checkpoint. newly built for sanitary facilities. and phytosanitary controls (SPS) of food.

“I’ve been here since yesterday afternoon and I’m stuck here until God knows when. I have to wait until they let me go, ”he said.

Roger White at the Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles, near Calais
Roger White at the Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles, near Calais, on Wednesday. Photograph: David Levene / The Guardian

He knew there were problems ahead when he got off the ferry and the electronic display assigned him the orange lane instead of the green, indicating that authorities will subject him to an inspection.

“I think maybe they are messing with the English trucks,” he said, since there was nothing wrong with the cheese. “Only the paperwork is missing.” Until he arrived, he would not be free to leave.

“I’m just waiting here. It’s terrible, nothing good, ”he said.

White, a driving force for 48 years, recalls what it was like before the single market in 1993 removed the trade barriers that Brexit had re-erected.

“We had customs controls before, but it was very well organized at the border,” he recalls. “Everyone is learning as they go. You can make your preparations beforehand, but it is not enough. This is all new to everyone and sadly there is nothing we can do about it. We just have to get used to it, ”he said.

Channel tunnel traffic is exceptionally low seven days after Brexit and drivers and exporters still avoid Channel ports and rail services, partly due to pre-Brexit storage and partly because business is conventionally calmer in the first two weeks of the new year.

In normal times, between 6,000 and 9,000 trucks cross the Canal each day, but the Department of Transportation said just over 2,000 trucks crossed on January 6, the day of the Guardian’s visit, with “90%” of those trucks ready for the border. It tested 1,081 drivers for Covid that day, six of which tested positive, bringing the number of tests performed on drivers to 46,563 since the chaos of Dec. 23.

Truckers Michael Delattre, left, and Benjamin Brogniart
Truckers Michael Delattre (left) and Benjamin Brogniart. Photograph: David Levene / The Guardian

Right under White’s truck are 30 to 40 other heavy vehicles also awaiting clearance. French drivers Benjamin Brogniart and Michael Delattre have come from Corby in Northamptonshire with trucks packed in red plastic containers for industrial batteries.

They have been stuck in the truck park since 8pm the night before.

“Brexit, for us, is not very good,” Brogniart said.

Another French driver, Alexandre Tronet, joins the conversation. “This is what you wanted. You wanted Brexit, ”he said.

“I got here at 6 in the morning,” he added, putting his wait time so far at six and a half hours. Again, you have to wait until the freight owner sends the correct customs documentation to the authorities stationed at the Eurotunnel border post.

“You make decisions at the last minute. They should have had it ready in the fall and it would be working properly, ”he said.

Alexandre Tronet.
Alexandre Tronet. Photograph: David Levene / The Guardian

Eurotunnel said Brexit had so far gone smoothly with the vast majority “fully compliant” with the new trade agreements, and determined to help British exporters familiarize themselves with the system.

“Our goal is for people to spend as little time as possible here. Aside from the initial problems, everything has gone very well, ”said John Keefe, director of public affairs.

“For the few trucks that are stopped, we have our Eurotunnel border service to help them in the process. They meet the drivers upon arrival, help them complete the paperwork or inspection, and help them gather the missing documents so they can get out of here as soon as possible. They also make sure that drivers, trucking companies and traders understand what was missing and what to take with them to avoid stopping next time.

These inaugural Brexit disruptions offer insight into the potential for delays when traffic levels in Dover and Calais return to normal levels later this month. Eurotunnel said it had been Brexit ready since March 2019, when it first installed the infrastructure that is now being rolled out at a cost of £ 47 million.

French border police and security personnel check trucks at the Eurotunnel terminal in France
A dog used to carry out checks on a truck at the Eurotunnel terminal in France. Photograph: David Levene / The Guardian

It already operates a number of controls and checks for those traveling in the opposite direction, including security checks with sniffer dogs. They are deployed to each truck at the “pit stop” inspection point, trained to identify stowaways.

The stop now also provides the opportunity to scan drivers’ documentation for exports to Great Britain.

A driver dealing with personnel at the inspection point of the pit stop.
A driver dealing with personnel at the inspection point of the pit stop. Photograph: David Levene / The Guardian

On the other side of the channel, the UK has delayed imposing Brexit controls for six months: truck parks are not ready, and neither are business, as the Brexit deal was only sealed on Christmas Eve.

It has implemented mitigation measures to prevent a repeat of chaos on Kent’s roads before Christmas. One of them is the Michael Gove-inspired Kent Access Permit (KAP), which is called the Brexit passport, which is electronically issued to trucks whose suppliers must testify that they have all the documentation for the Canal crossing in order.

“One of our guys was fined £ 300,” Delattre said.

The driver was not caught by the police, but when he went to the Ashford HMRC park to get tested for Covid, which is now mandatory before boarding a train or ferry to France.

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