UK logistics opposes Operation Brock as a Brexit solution. What are the alternatives?

Logistics and Supply Chain News Original Content

Delays at the UK s borders have disrupted holidays and goods’ flow throughout the year. Logistics organisations are now seeking a more permanent solution and say that Operation Brock cannot be one. We spoke to Josh Fenton, Logistics UK’s Policy Manager – Trade, Customs and Borders about why there has not been a permanent solution, what is wrong with Operation Brock and what would be a satisfying solution for the organisation, which represents a large portion of the logistics sector in the UK.

  1. The headaches around post-Brexit trade have been going on for a long time now. Why has no permanent solution been found?

There has been a history of disruption on and around this border long before Brexit, with causes such as industrial action and bad weather creating significant delays. The challenge is that there is not much space in the Short Straits when things go wrong, therefore we need greater resilience in this vital trading route. Any increase in transaction time has the potential to create further delays. Therefore, Logistics UK is calling for simpler processes and sufficient capacity at ports at the points of entry and exit.

Following Brexit, all passports now need to be individually checked and stamped before entering the EU, this can be particularly challenging during busy periods for tourist traffic, such as the start of school holidays when there is an increase in the number of cars and coaches travelling with multiple passports having to be checked and therefore significantly increasing transaction times.

In August 2023, the government announced it was implementing a new UK tailored Border Target Operating Model, for food and plant imports from the EU, which will introduce increased checks at all ports and inland borders. This has the potential to cause significant delays at the Short Straits. It is of huge concern that the government has yet to set out a workable model for the Short Straits under its final Border Target Operating Model, which will introduce new controls on imports from January 2024.

Serious questions still remain as to whether the Short Straits will be treated as a single point of entry, what charges the government might apply and whether drivers selected for any checks will have the flexibility to stop at either the Border Control Post on the M20 (Sevington) or the A2 (Bastion Point) depending on their route and destination.

Logistics UK and its members have been pressing for a workable solution at the border since the UK left the EU. It is now time for government to act on the feedback from industry to protect the UK’s highly interconnected supply chain.

  1. What are the problems with Operation Brock that you see?

The Operation Brock traffic management scheme controls the flow of traffic into and out of the Port of Dover and has an impact across Kent. When the scheme is in operation, HGVs are queued along the hard shoulder of the M20 until space is available for them in the Channel ports. Operation Brock is a temporary solution. It is difficult to deploy if the delays have already hit the network, therefore it needs to be pre-empted and put out ahead of when it is actually needed. Often this can mean that Brock is put in place for precautionary purposes.

There is a significant cost each time Brock is deployed, as well as disruption to the local communities in Kent. Because Operation Brock is deployed on a live carriageway, it makes it very difficult, for safety reasons, to provide welfare such as access to food and toilets to drivers who have been queuing for long periods of time. There is no prioritisation of loads, meaning essential and time-sensitive goods are not given preference. When things do go wrong, there is not much of an alternative, therefore it is vital to ensure that traffic is kept moving wherever possible.

  1. What can be a solution you and your members would find appealing?

Our members need a long-term solution to crossing the UK’s borders which keeps freight moving freely, rather than the on again, off again Brock scheme: the constant uncertainty it causes creates unnecessary confusion and delays that are not helpful for the future competitiveness of UK trade.

The logistics sector likes certainty and consistency where possible as this helps with operational planning and costs. It also ensures that drivers are not put into dangerous situations such as exceeding their drivers’ hours allowance or having to find somewhere to park up. We need to minimise transaction times per vehicle.

Whilst the focus should be on keeping traffic flowing, in the event of a significant delay at the border for freight traffic, drivers should be provided with the option to divert to a location where they can access facilities such as toilets, food and drink. However, this will only work if drivers know they will not lose their place in the queue. Therefore, it would require the use of technology to keep drivers informed and investment in increasing the capacity of much-needed driver welfare facilities in Kent.

Part of the solution for improved cross-border flows could be found in infrastructure investment. Road and rail improvements are crucial to help ease congestion heading to and from the Short Straits and government must act to reduce the economic harms caused by issues on this critical part of the network.

Following the UK’s departure from the EU, every passport has to be checked. Despite the best efforts of the Port of Dover and Le Shuttle to keep transition times through the border down, these new checks are causing delays at peak passenger periods, and this is even before the new EU Entry and Exit Scheme is introduced next year. To ensure that freight can move as seamlessly as possible to its final destination, Logistics UK is urging government to engage with the EU to ensure opportunities for digitisation of documents can be maximised, so that checks can be completed away from the border, reducing the knock-on disruption and delays for goods consignments.

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