Growing up in 1990s Poland, I remember traffic bulletins on the radio. Locations of traffic jams and accidents changed, but there was one constant element: waiting times for trucks at the border crossing. Since then, Poland has joined NATO, then the EU, but it was only when we joined Schengen I felt truly European.
Those who remember roads leading to borders lined with miles of trucks could not imagine why anyone would want to deliberately cause queues, and yet here we are. Finally, after kicking the can down the road for years, Britain finally had no choice but to implement border checks on entrance to the UK. And you should be worried about it. Why?
Some might say ‘we have had checks on goods going out for years and it’s not a big deal’. But actually, it is.
Impact of border checks on European hauliers
Remember that dramatic HGV driver shortage a couple of years back? It was partially caused by the fact that European hauliers refused to go too far into Britain. Rather than collecting a return load and getting stuck in Ashford at an export clearance centre for days, they preferred to head out empty to pick up trouble-free freight across the Channel.
Coincidentally (or perhaps not), British exports dropped dramatically, but there were still not enough drivers to shift goods around Britain after the EU truckers, who used to do it, disappeared. In desperation the British government invited EU truckers to do unlimited cabotage – that is to operate without restrictions – for 14 days. But this was a stab in the back for many British companies, as EU services are often much cheaper. And so British transport companies are now going bust left, right and centre. Which is bad, because many EU hauliers are about to pull out of the British market altogether. Why?
Border checks mean long wait times and queueing
The old truth about the transport industry is that a truck is only making money when the wheels are turning. As I write these words, you need to plan 47 hours to enter Britain via the Rotterdam to Felixstowe route, even though it takes just over 6 hours for the ferry journey itself. If you choose to go to Dover, there is a one kilometre queue just to enter the port of Dunkirk. Those delays are caused by the import checks.
You might not be using any diesel when your truck is stuck in customs, but you still have to pay your driver, and your overhead costs (leasing, insurance etc.) remain constant too. If you stay in the EU single market, you don’t have to worry about customs and other red tape. Your journey times are more predictable. If you are a German haulier and your truck can do one trip to England or two trips to France in the same week, which option would you chose?
Infrastructure and security concerns for foreign truckers
Another question is: would your driver agree to go to the UK? Many European drivers already refuse to go to Britain. It’s the country with the worst infrastructure for truckers in Europe – overpriced truck parking and very limited basic services like toilets, access to water or food. Moreover local authorities in England are only too happy to fine desperate truckers for parking in laybys when truck stops are full.
You have to drive on the wrong side of the road. There is an ongoing problem with migrants in Calais trying to break into your lorry, for which you might be made responsible and fined a crazy amount of money. Why does the British government think foreign truckers should do the Border Force’s job for them? Drivers remember how they were imprisoned in Manston in December 2020. And last but not least, drivers are in their job because they want to drive, not deal with mountains of paperwork.
I used to be an international freight driver based in Scotland. Sometimes I crossed the English Channel several times per week. I would not dare to undertake this journey now without proper research: where to go for clearance, what the procedures are, what I need to do online, what documents I need, what are import declarations, veterinary certificates, ENS, SAD, haulage permits, Goods Movement Reference Numbers and so on.
Any mistakes – even those that a driver has no influence over – might result in huge delays. I once got stuck for three days on the Hungarian-Croatian border (before Croatia was in the EU) because someone in the office had filled in the wrong form.
Revisiting Rees-Mogg’s warning: increased costs realised
Jacob Rees-Mogg is not one to be trusted. But remember that 2022 interview, when he dressed in a Euro-Tunnel hi-vis to look like a person with an actual useful job (as Tories do)? He was asked about the delay to imposing border checks and said that they “would have been an act of self-harm [and] would have increased costs for people”, in some cases by up to 71%.
Yes, Rees-Mogg told you the truth. Those checks are in place now. Sure, some European trucks will still come to the UK. But it will come at a price, ultimately paid for by a British consumer.