Lorry drivers will face de facto Brexit border in Kent, Gove confirms

A de facto Brexit border is to be introduced for lorry drivers entering Kent to travel on to the EU, Michael Gove has confirmed.

The minister for the Cabinet Office and chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster told the Commons that lorry drivers would need a “Kent access permit” to get into the county from 1 January with “police and ANPR cameras [automatic number plate recognition]” enforcing the system.

Drivers, British or foreign, who are travelling, for instance from depots in the Midlands, will need to get a permit before they arrive in Kent if they intend to board a ferry or Eurotunnel train.

The KAP has been considered inside Whitehall for some time as a means of averting traffic chaos in the county, but this is the first time it has been confirmed by the government as an operational plan for next January.

According to a leaked border delivery document seen by the Guardian, the scheme was due to be approved last week at a meeting of the exit operating committee, chaired by Gove.

“We want to make sure that people use a relatively simple process in order to get what will become known as a Kent access permit,” he told parliament.

“If they don’t have the material required, then it will be the case that through policing, ANPR cameras and other means, we will do our very best to ensure that … constituents [in Kent] are not inconvenienced,” he added.

Under government plans revealed in a leaked document, KAPs will be issued only to drivers who have completed all the paperwork necessary to board a ferry or Eurotunnel train to Calais.

According to the document seen by the Guardian last week, the KAP system “is proposed to be enforced in Kent with a £300 [fine] for port-bound HGVs that travel without a Kent access permit”.

The government has not said how it will enforce the KAP. Earlier this week, the Labour MP Angela Eagle asked: “Who’s going to be patrolling the Kent borders to make sure that no lorry goes into Kent if it hasn’t got that passport?

“Where are the border posts for going into Kent going to be? It’s all very well saying we are going to need it, but are we going to have Kent border police or border guards?” she asked at the Treasury select committee on Tuesday.

Industry leaders have also been concerned. One said it would need physical checks to “weed out” those with a KAP and those without, which was a non-starter in their view.

On Tuesday, Gove wrote to hauliers to warn that if they do not prepare now for Brexit they could face queues of up to 7,000 trucks in Kent, confirming internal cabinet analysis of the potential disruption caused by the UK’s departure from the single market in January.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) chief executive, Richard Burnett, said the industry “already knows” there will be queues in Kent as it had been pressing the government to take action for months.

He expressed fury that the government was trying to shift blame on to the industry.

“Mr Gove stresses that it’s essential that traders act now to get ready for new the formalities. We know for a fact that they are only too keen to be ready but how on earth can they prepare when there is still no clarity as to what they need to do?” said Burnett.

Duncan Buchanan, the group’s policy director for England and Wales, said the Kent permits were “useless” and “pointless” as nobody could enforce them.

The letter from Gove also warns of two-day delays for cargo travelling to the EU through Dover or Folkestone ferry or Eurotunnel trains in what it is describing as the “reasonable worst-case scenario”.

“The biggest potential cause of disruption are traders not being ready for controls implemented by EU member states on 1 January 2021,” Gove wrote in the letter seen by the Guardian. “It is essential that traders act now and get ready for new formalities.”

The letter has enraged industry leaders and the haulage industry, which has been begging for details of the preparations they will have to make as a matter of urgency for the last six months.

It came the day both Logistics UK, which represents the freight industry, and the Port of Dover said the government’s efforts to shift blame for lack of Brexit preparations on to the industry was wrong-headed.

Tim Reardon, the head of EU exit policy, told the Treasury select committee that government funds had yet to be released for vital infrastructure at Dover port.

The money needed to be “issued rather than talked about”, he said.

The chair of the committee, the Conservative MP Mel Stride, said the government appeared to be leaving it “incredibly tight” and questioned why “in the latter part of September” there was still “talk about money being available for spades in the ground”.

In his letter, Gove 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.”

The Cabinet Office said it would be publishing its response of a consultation on use of police “shortly” but said it would be wrong to characterise the Kent access permit as a border control.

“We are prioritising the smooth movement of outbound HGVs over 7.5 tonnes through Kent to prevent unnecessary queues at the border,” said a spokesman.

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

The RHA, meanwhile, said its meeting on Thursday with Gove was a “waste of time” as it did not engage with the detailed actions needed to be taken.

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

“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.”

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