Michael Gove reveals lorries will need permits to enter Kent to avoid post-Brexit gridlock

  • ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt discusses the plans for Kent

Michael Gove has revealed hauliers will need special permits to enter Kent in controversial plans to create an “internal border”.

In an attempt to avoid post-Brexit gridlock after the UK leaves the single market and customs union at the end of the year, Mr Gove said the permits could help to avoid queues of up to 7,000 trucks crossing the English Channel.

The Kent Access Permit (KAP) system could be enforced by police or the use of cameras monitoring the number plates of vehicles entering the county at points such as the Dartford Crossing bringing freight from Essex.

A lack of preparation for the end of the transition period could result in as many as 70% of lorries being turned back from France, with thousands of goods vehicles waiting up to 48 hours to reach Dover as a result of the chaos.

Michael Gove said police are acting in a ‘very proportionate way’ Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

Mr Gove said the “smart freight” system was aimed at avoiding that level of congestion.

When the KAP system was proposed in August, trade body Logistics UK warned it would “create an internal UK border by introducing Kent Access Permits, adding more red tape to the work which hauliers will be obliged to comply with”.

Mr Gove said the queues of “up to 7,000 HGVs in Kent” were likely to “subside” after businesses learned from seeing their cargo denied access to the continent. “But it is clearly far better that everyone is aware now of what is needed to prepare rather than to face additional disruption next year,” the Cabinet Office Minister said.

Mr Gove added one in four businesses believe they are “fully ready” for the post-Brexit arrangements.

The Duchy of Lancaster told MPs more businesses are becoming fully prepared but there are "still many" who have "not quite taken the steps they need to."

He told the Commons: “Our survey evidence indicates while 78% of businesses have taken steps, just 24% believe they are fully ready.

"Indeed 43% of businesses actually believe the transition period will be extended even though the deadline for any extension has now long passed and the date we leave the single market and customs union is fixed in law and supported across this House.”

His address came as the government published details of the "reasonable worst-case scenarios" to trade post-Brexit, which includes 7,000 lorries in Kent and two-day delays for cargo travelling to France.

The document was originally leaked, but has now been published online.

The Minister responsible for no-deal Brexit planning has written to hauliers and logistics groups warning of the consequences if they fail to prepare for the changes to customs rules.

The Cabinet Office has stressed the calculations are not a forecast, but a "stretching scenario".

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab sought to allay worst-case fears, saying the projection was made so the government can work with businesses to assess how it can be avoided.

Mr Gove told MPs the government is “committed” to negotiating a new free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU before the end of the year and a Cabinet committee meets “almost daily” to prepare for the end of the Brexit transition period.

He told the Commons: “Whether we secure a good FTA before January or not, whether we get a Canada-style deal or exit on Australian terms, we will have left the single market and customs union – and that fact means adjustments for businesses trading with the EU, changes for citizens travelling to the EU and new responsibilities for Government in both scenarios.”

But shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves said people must assume that these worst-case scenarios over the post-Brexit situation “will play out quite soon."

She said: “The news today that there could soon be tailbacks of 7,000 lorries is quite extraordinary.

“I know the government has said that they are committed to building new infrastructure, but I didn’t realise it meant concreting over the Garden of England.

“Today’s warnings are based on a reasonable worst-case scenario, but given we have a reasonable worst-case government, we have to assume that these scenarios will play out quite soon.”

She said earlier on Wednesday "it is just not good enough" that exporters could face huge delays at the border.

"The government had promised us this oven ready deal, some of us now worry the government forgot to turn the oven on," the shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said.

"We've had four years and three prime ministers since we voted to leave the European Union, there is no excuse for not having the infrastructure in place."

Rachel Reeves: 'The government needs to get a grip...'

Mr Gove told the Commons the 'reasonable worst-case scenario' was not a prediction or a forecast but what could happen if preparations are not made and “if our neighbours decline to be pragmatic”.

He explained: “The scenario builds on an estimate that only 50% to 70% of large businesses and just 20% to 40% of small and medium-size enterprises would be ready for the strict application of new EU requirements.

“In those circumstances that could mean between only 30% and 60% of laden HGVs would arrive at the border with the necessary formalities completed for the goods on board.

“They’d therefore be turned back by the French border authorities, clogging the Dover to Calais crossing.”

Mr Gove said it is "clearly far better that everyone is aware now" of what is needed to prepare than face further disruption next year.

He was asked twice how many of the 50,000 customs agents needed have been recruited, but declined to answer.

ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt spoke to Richard Burnett, Road Haulage Association CEO who said it's like Mr Gove "is putting his fingers in his ears and saying la la la."

It comes as the European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier prepares to travel to London for further informal talks with his counterpart Lord Frost as efforts continue to strike a post-Brexit trade deal.

But in the document sent to logistics associations, which has been seen by PA news agency, Mr Gove warned that changes were coming with or without a deal.

The transition period, which kept the UK aligned to the EU’s single market and customs union rules to allow trade to flow smoothly after Brexit, expires at the end of the year unless both sides agree to an extension – something Boris Johnson has ruled out.

The Cabinet Office document states that, in its reasonable worst-case scenario, between 30-50% of trucks crossing the Channel will not be ready for the new regulations coming into force on January 1, 2021, while a “lack of capacity to hold unready trucks at French ports” could reduce the flow of traffic across the strait to 60-80% of normal levels.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, is due in London on Wednesday for further informal talks on a trade deal Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

“This could lead to maximum queues of 7,000 port bound trucks in Kent and associated maximum delays of up to two days,” the documents said.

Such delays could be in place for at least three months, hauliers have been warned, as alternative routes are sought and supply chains get to grips with the new systems and requirements.

In his letter, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said: “Irrespective of the outcome of negotiations between the UK and EU, traders will face new customs controls and processes.

“Simply put, if traders, both in the UK and EU, have not completed the right paperwork, their goods will be stopped when entering the EU and disruption will occur.

“It is essential that traders act now and get ready for new formalities.”

But sector chiefs have accused the government of failing to do enough in recent weeks over the threat of post-Brexit border delays.

Logistics UK, formerly the Freight Transport Association, was seething last week after being told the government’s Smart Freight system – designed to reduce the risk of cargo delays once Britain is outside of EU rules – would still be in testing mode in January when British exports face new border regulations.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA), meanwhile, said their meeting on Thursday with Mr Gove had fallen “far short of our expectations”.

Responding to the worst-case scenario document, RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “We’ve been consistently warning the government that there will be delays at ports but they’re just not engaging with industry on coming up with solutions.

Michael Gove said police are acting in a ‘very proportionate way’ Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

“Traders need 50,000 more customs intermediaries to handle the mountain of new paperwork after transition but government support to recruit and train those extra people is woefully inadequate.

“The answers to the questions that we raised in our letter to Mr Gove and subsequent roundtable meeting last Thursday still remain unanswered – and our concern continues to grow.”