In post-Brexit UK, quiet ports hide mounting transport chaos

Truckers say they are struggling to adjust to new paperwork following the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Goods traffic at the port of Dover near the UK's southern crossing to France is down sharply from year-ago levels, but many trucks are stuck at factories and depots as they try to resolve bureaucratic issues due to Brexit [File: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg]

A week on from Brexit, the main road to Dover has been so quiet that officials were able to close half of it Thursday for a litter-picking operation without causing delays for drivers.

But behind such placid scenes, many truckers are still warning of chaos as they struggle to adjust to the new paperwork required by Britain’s departure from the European Union. Drivers are being held up for hours because they lack the right documents, they say.

With traffic well below its usual levels, the pain has so far manifested itself out of sight at factory gates and truckers’ depots. It’s likely to spread to the ports as activity rebounds in coming days, according to seven firms interviewed by Bloomberg.

“It’s an absolute mess,” said David Zaccheo, operations manager at Alcaline U.K. Ltd., whose fleet of 145 vehicles shuttles goods between Britain and the EU. “What’s going to happen next week? We’re not even that busy at the moment.”

Zaccheo said his firm has had vehicles stuck in Italy since Monday because of a lack of correct transit documents. In another case, a trailer destined for Milan had to wait for two days in the U.K. before it could move because it didn’t have the right paperwork, he said.

Faced with the threat of chaos at the border in the weeks after Brexit, many firms decided to stockpile goods or delay deliveries, leaving Dover eerily quiet. Traffic through the port is down 85% from its 2019 average. With the industry expecting activity to pick up in coming days, Britain faces the first major test of its Brexit readiness . . . .

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