DPD said that some 20 per cent of parcels destined for Europe are having to be returned because the new customs forms required by Boris Johnson’s EU trade deal.
And retailer Marks & Spencer said that “complex administrative processes” resulting from Brexit, as well as tariffs on some products, were “significantly impacting” on its activities in Ireland, France and the Czech Republic.
Anticipated queues of lorries at the Channel ports have failed to materialise in the week since new rules came into effect, with a spokeswoman for the Port of Dover saying that traffic had been “running smoothly since the end of the post-transition period”.
But hauliers said that this was due in part to unusually low volumes of traffic in what would normally be the quietest week of the year, with crossings reduced even further by the effects of stockpiling to prepare for Brexit, the Covid crisis and firms holding back on movements until the new system is bedded in.
Road Haulage Association spokesman Paul Mummery said that while a majority of trucks have cleared customs formalities successfully, a “significant” proportion were being turned back for having the wrong paperwork, an issue which he expected to become more visible as traffic levels pick up over the coming weeks.
“We will see supply chain friction in the coming weeks,” he said. “We don’t expect it to be as visible as the queues we saw in Kent before Christmas, but the impact will be there just the same, in the form of trucks parked up at inland checkpoints or standing idle in the depot waiting for paperwork to be completed before they set off.
“We’re expecting disruption for around six months until the new systems are bedded in.”
Ferry company DFDS said it was experiencing “a high volume of vehicles being refused and delayed at the ports of Calais, Dunkirk and Dover due to incorrect paperwork being presented at check-in”.
In a statement, DPD said it was pausing its road operations to the EU until 13 January, after a “challenging few days” following the New Year transition, with teams working round-the-clock to deal with new administrative burdens.
Leaving the EU’s single market and customs union had required “significant changes to the way we take your parcels cross-border”, the company said.
“It has now become evident that we have an increased burden with the new, more complex processes, and additional customs data we require from you for your parcels destined to Europe,” DPD said in a message to customers.
“This has placed extra pressure on our turnaround and transit times.
“We are seeing up to 20% of parcels having incorrect or incomplete data attached, these will have to be returned to you so that the required data can be provided.
“In addition to this we are seeing delays and congestion at UK ports and more rigid requirements for Channel crossings.”
In its post-Christmas trading statement, M&S said: “The free trade agreement with the EU means we will not incur tariffs on our core UK sales.
“However potential tariffs on part of our range exported to the EU, together with very complex administrative processes, will significantly impact our businesses in Ireland, the Czech Republic and our franchise business in France which we are actively working to mitigate.”
It is understood that tariffs may arise because of rules-of-origin regulations governing items brought into the UK and then re-exported to the EU, which do not enjoy the same zero-tariff zero-quota status under Mr Johnson’s deal as goods originating in Britain.
Mr Mummery told The Independent there were concerns that complex new documentation and the prospect of delays may deter exporters from shipping products, reducing opportunities for hauliers.
“Some firms may find a way of doing business that focuses more on the domestic market,” he said. “We have heard that there are firms in the EU that have decided that working in the UK is not worth their while this year. There will be firms in this country who will anticipate the ache of the new procedures and decide not to focus on export markets.
“If you are looking at hundreds of pounds to fill in forms and then you have delays built in, time is money and it may well be that with tight cost margins, they will say it is just not worth it.”
Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “The Government promised it had a plan to make sure things ran smoothly for businesses and hauliers post-Brexit.
“It’s clear the problems caused by its poor preparation and delaying tactics have not gone away. Ministers have to get a grip on this and make sure essential workers are actually able to do their jobs, or we risk seeing a repeat of the chaos on our roads at Christmas.”