Without waiting for the outcome of current trade negotiations, long queues of trucks have begun to form at the entrance points of the U.K.’s sea border with Europe, as businesses are rushing to stockpile ahead of the departure of the country from Europe’s single market and customs union.
- Even if the U.K. and the European Union strike a deal on their future trade relationship in the next few days, the traffic of goods over the English Channel will be affected by new regulations that importers and exporters will have to abide by, new compliance costs, and systematic border checks.
- U.K. businesses and the U.K. government have been blaming each other for an alleged lack of preparation, notably of IT systems, for the new rules to come into effect on Jan. 1, amid persistent uncertainty about the outcome of the trade talks.
- An executive at Girteka Logistics, Europe’s largest truck company, told Bloomberg News earlier this week that queues of trucks at the border might reach up to 50 kilometers once Brexit becomes effective, and that his company might have to limit deliveries to the U.K.
- In a rare demonstration of bureaucratic optimism, the chief executive of the French port of Calais said in an interview with Reuters that Brexit might not “necessarily mean chaos (…) if customs declarations are done as they should be, ahead of time.”
- Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator in the trade talks, told the European Parliament on Friday that there were only “a few hours” left to find a compromise in a situation he qualified as “serious and somber.”
The outlook: The expected disruptions at the EU-U.K. border, deal or no deal, will only be amplified by the restrictions on travel that European governments might strengthen in the weeks to come, as they prove powerless to control the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some ferry companies this fall cut the number of vessels on the Dover to Calais route on account of the pandemic, which may happen again if the Christmas holidays coincide with a spike of infections in the U.K. and on the continent.
In the last hours of the Brexit talks, the prospect of utter chaos at the border on Jan. 1 may help U.K. and EU negotiators focus on the need to compromise and limit the damage.