By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Lorry drivers could be slapped with fines of up to £300 when journeying to Europe and back unless they have a Kent travel pass after Brexit.
The tough enforcement measure has been laid down by the government. The aim is to reduce congestion between the UK and French borders from hauliers not having the right documents at the Channel Tunnel.
Under Whitehall plans, a lorry driver will be required to use an online portal to answer some questions before being issued with a Kent Access Permit to instruct them to carry on their journey via the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel.
Bosses at Logistics UK, a major national haulier company which runs services in Kent, notably Unipac Shipping in Staplehurst, said drivers were shocked to hear they would be personally penalised if the new laws are not adhered to.
Chris Yarsley, who is the policy manager for road infrastructure at logistics UK, said: “Our members are dismayed that the onus for compliance will be placed on drivers themselves, leaving them personally liable for a fine if they do not comply with the new rules.”
Last month, cabinet minister Michael Gove revealed that hauliers crossing the English Channel would need a pass to enter Kent if the Government fails to sign off on a deal with the European Union (EU) by the end of December.
The Prime Minister wants to avoid a “reasonable worst-case scenario” of queues of up to 7,000 trucks at the UK-EU border.
A Kent County Council (KCC) paper was yesterday sent to all 81 elected members to explain the latest plans on a national and local level for the EU transition phase, which is due to end on December 31, 2020.
The report was jointly prepared by KCC leader Roger Gough (Con) and Maidstone County Hall’s corporate director of transport Barbara Cooper.
In the 12-page dossier, they say: “The Government is clear that it wants to deter unready trucks from entering Kent.
“In essence, the Government does not want hauliers to attempt to cross the short straits if traders have not completed the necessary EU formalities to ensure their goods can successfully cross the border.
“Automating readiness is a key plank of the Government’s plans.”
However, Mr Yarsley said he was frustrated with the bureaucracy, adding: “It is disappointing to see that the government is expecting significant friction at the border with the EU, after the logistics industry had been given previous reassurances that friction would be minimised.”
He added: “The proposals create an internal UK border by introducing Kent access permits, adding more red tape to the work which hauliers will be obliged to comply with.”
The Logistics UK boss has pressed the Government to “reassure” hauliers that a new online system, which lorry drivers will need to use to upload their completed border documents, will be ready to use on January 1, 2021.
However, the Kent access pass is just one of at least three different permits that will be available in the UK to hauliers travelling in and out of the country.
At Ebbsfleet, the railway station’s car park D will be used as a 253-lorry park and customs checkpoint for access to a “unique” permit for “priority” goods heading out of the UK, such as Scottish fish and day-old chicks.
In east Kent, hauliers with at least five lorry vehicles will be given a “local permit” used to travel through the short Straits. The short Straits are channel crossings at Calais, Dunkirk and Coquelles to and from Dover and Folkestone.
Having these permits should allow these drivers to head straight to the ports without joining the back of queues on the M20, say government officials.
Councillors will discuss Kent’s preparedness for Brexit at a virtual public meeting of KCC’s full council next Thursday (Oct 22).