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Coming to a supermarket near you? Retailers fear Northern Ireland-style food shortages

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Ministers are drawing up plans to allow supermarket lorries to bypass queues at the Channel ports amid fears of food shortages in the UK.

Certain vehicles will be given access to open lanes on the M20 in Kent during delays at the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel terminal in order to cross the Channel, refill and return as quickly as possible.

The consultation document issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says these are ’emergency measures only to be used in extremis and for the shortest time possible’.

The scheme would be triggered once congestion on the approach roads to Dover reaches eight hours, and deliveries to UK supermarkets fall below 75 per cent of the schedule for two consecutive days. 

It came as truckers queued for up to eight hours for their border paperwork to be signed off at a beleaguered Brexit lorry park in Kent.

Photos show drivers left waiting in the rain in a giant queue at the Waterbrook Park estate off the M20 in Ashford, which is being used for customs checks until the end of February.

In the documents, Defra said ‘the potential for further disruption remains high’ due to the pandemic and new border processes and procedures resulting from the end of the Brexit transition period.

It went on: ‘The combination of these unprecedented factors is likely to contribute to delays at the border which could, in turn, prevent the speedy return of empty goods vehicles to the EU where they can collect more food.

‘Such delays are likely to have a direct impact on the UK’s food supply.’

In a further blow to Boris Johnson over the UK’s trade borders, a senior Northern Ireland politician warned that Brexit rules that have left supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland empty of fresh food risk undermining the Good Friday Agreement. 

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson urged the Government to intervene to resolve the issues that have hindered the flow of food products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland since the end of the transition period.

Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Tesco have all faced supply issues after the new customs paperwork came in following the transition period ending on January 1.

Photos show drivers left waiting in the rain in a giant queue at the Waterbrook Park estate off the M20 in Ashford in Kent, which is being used for customs checks until the end of February

Photos show drivers left waiting in the rain in a giant queue at the Waterbrook Park estate off the M20 in Ashford in Kent, which is being used for customs checks until the end of February

Police officers manage freight lorries queueing for the Ashford International Truckstop in Ashford, Kent today

Police officers manage freight lorries queueing for the Ashford International Truckstop in Ashford, Kent today

The site is at near capacity as Channel traffic builds up following a quiet start to the year and the end of the transition period with the European Union on December 31

The site is at near capacity as Channel traffic builds up following a quiet start to the year and the end of the transition period with the European Union on December 31

Unionist Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (right) today warned that the 1998 Anglo-Irish deal which ended three decades of bitter violence risks being breached as a result of disruption to post-Brexit Irish Sea trade.

Unionist Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (right) today warned that the 1998 Anglo-Irish deal which ended three decades of bitter violence risks being breached as a result of disruption to post-Brexit Irish Sea trade.

The Prime Minister said 'teething problems' were to blame for a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in Ulster in the past weeks - branding the situation as 'absurd'.

The Prime Minister said ‘teething problems’ were to blame for a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in Ulster in the past weeks – branding the situation as ‘absurd’.

Retailers have warned that shops in Northern Ireland could face further problems unless the EU is prepared to extend the 'grace period' in the Brexit agreement

Retailers have warned that shops in Northern Ireland could face further problems unless the EU is prepared to extend the ‘grace period’ in the Brexit agreement

Diggers get to work on another lorry park as they carve up farmland above White Cliffs of Dover

Work has begun on yet another Kent lorry park as diggers carved up farmland above the White Cliffs of Dover today for a new post-Brexit customs facility.

Once complete, the site in Guston, near Dover, will open as a customs checkpoint facility, with the ability to hold 1,200 lorries, should there be delays at the ports similar to those seen last month. 

Work is well underway at a similar facility in Sevington, Ashford, which will be able to hold up to 2,000 trucks.

The sites in Guston and Sevington are set to be used for post-Brexit customs checks to prevent delays at nearby ports – with three other sites in Kent are set to also be up and running by July.

But villagers are up in arms over at Guston, referred to as the Dover White Cliffs site, amid fears it will replace Manston Airport as the main holding bay for lorries in the event of cross-Channel delays. 

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Fresh fruit, vegetables and chilled meat are among the products most affected as many food suppliers face delays on getting goods into the country.

Defra is also proposing to fast track Gibraltar-bound groceries, as it relies on the UK for about half of its food supply. 

It comes as Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright today expressed concern about the potential for delays at the Channel ports as the numbers of lorries making the crossing picked up over the coming months.

‘It will get worse. Currently volumes across the short straits are at about 2,000 lorries. They should be around 10,000. So the opportunity for the scale of concerns to rise is huge,’ he said.

British Retail Consortium director Andrew Opie also issued a warning over disruption to goods crossing the Channel, saying ‘it will get worse before it gets better’.

He said he is on watch for any impact this week and onwards, with British businesses ‘still not 100% prepared’ for the changes as the French step up customs checks.

Rod McKenzie, director of policy at the Road Haulage Association (RHA), said the delays In Kent were ‘shocking’ as the industry body branded the situation a ‘perfect storm’. 

Tesco chief executive Ken Murphy said: ‘We have seen some limited disruption into the Republic of Ireland and into the North of Ireland but we’re working very closely with Government on both sides of the Irish Sea to smooth the flow of products.’

HMRC said the average wait time is 65 minutes in Ashford but that drivers are warned to expect delays and are encouraged to pre-book a space online. 

After the lengthy wait to have their documents approved, frustrated truckers then need to be tested for coronavirus before they are allowed to proceed over the Channel.

The delayed, 1,700-capacity Sevington Lorry Park will take over the task from Waterbrook in March, as fears continue to grow over long delays as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU, with business chiefs admitting today things will ‘get worse before they get better’. 

PM warned Good Friday Agreement is ‘at risk’ from Brexit trade rules that have left supermarket shelves EMPTY of fruit and vegetables

Boris Johnson was warned today that Brexit trade rules that have left supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland empty of fresh food risk undermining the Good Friday Agreement. 

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson urged the Government to intervene to resolve the issues that have hindered the flow of food products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland since the end of the transition period.

Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Tesco have all faced supply issues after the new customs paperwork came in following the transition period ending on January 1.

Fresh fruit, vegetables and chilled meat are among the products most affected as many food suppliers face delays on getting goods into the country.

The Prime Minister said ‘teething problems’ were to blame for a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in Ulster in the past weeks – branding the situation as ‘absurd’.

But Unionist Sir Jeffrey today warned that the 1998 Anglo-Irish deal which ended three decades of bitter violence risks being breached as a result of disruption to post-Brexit Irish Sea trade.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The protocol (which governs the new arrangements) is damaging the Northern Ireland economy and if it damages the Northern Ireland economy it actually undermines the Good Friday agreement.

‘And furthermore, that agreement makes clear that Northern Ireland will remain an integral part of the United Kingdom unless the people of Northern Ireland vote otherwise.

‘Therefore this breaches a fundamental element of the Good Friday agreement by increasingly separating Northern Ireland from Great Britain in trading terms – our biggest trading partner, our biggest trading market, and that simply doesn’t help anyone in Northern Ireland.’ 

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Under Brexit rules which came into force on January 1, hauliers headed to the EU need to obtain a Kent Access Permit and complete the correct paperwork for their cargo, or else they could be fined.

It comes after chaotic scenes over Christmas saw thousands of lorries trapped in Kent when France closed its border with Britain due to the discovery of a new fast-spreading Covid variant in the UK.

Posting a photo on Twitter yesterday, Mr McKenzie of the RHA wrote: ‘Ashford truck stop today with drivers queuing for up to eight hours to get their border paperwork cleared then having to get COVID test afterwards for France.’ 

A spokesperson for the association said: ‘Trucks are sat there for hours at a time and not able to pass go. It’s no surprise to us. The systems they’re using are untested.

‘Everything has been last minute. They’ve had no time whatsoever to get used to a raft of new processes. It’s a perfect storm of the worrying delays that were going to happen.

‘The worry is that the capacity and volumes are below usual and it’s quieter than usual. We’re really, really concerned about what happens when volumes are returned to normal.’

It is thought that the queues are being caused by a lack of staff to process paperwork checks at the site.

A HMRC spokesperson said: ‘HMRC has set up five inland border facilities across the country for hauliers to use. Drivers are encouraged to pre-book their space at an inland border facility by using our online service, which will allow them to see how busy each site is in advance so that they can avoid delays.

‘With a majority of drivers using Ashford Waterbrook, this has led to longer waiting times and we have advised drivers to expect delays.

‘Current site data has shown that the average wait time is 65 minutes. However, any driver concerned about the wait time may choose to visit an alternative location.’

Traffic at Dover has increased in the last week and is now running at two thirds of the normal rate for the time of the year, according to the Port of Dover.

Yesterday a three and a half mile queue of lorries had built up on the M20 due to Operation Brock, according to motorists. 

The transport management system, which was originally devised to cope with the possible fallout of a no-deal Brexit, queues lorries in the left hand lane of the M20 – allowing other vehicles to continue flowing smoothly. 

In the Kent village of Sevington, a ‘glut’ of lorries were reported to be clogging up roads in the area.

The sleepy parish, home to just over 300 people, is surrounded by the Waterbrook Park site and the partially operational giant post-Brexit Sevington Lorry Park, where Covid-19 testing is taking place.

According to figures from Sevington South councillor, Paul Bartlett, 690 lorries had passed through the Waterbrook site in the 24 hours up to 9pm last night.

A further 1,190 people had used the Sevington Covid testing site. 

Cllr Bartlett said: ‘There’s a lack of communication between various agencies and a lack of communication when traffic is moved between the two sites unfortunately.

‘It’s important to make sure that there’s not a glut of them at the same time.’

He added that the queues around the village yesterday began at 6.30pm and lasted two hours.

Earlier this week, work began on yet another Kent lorry park as diggers carved up farmland above the White Cliffs of Dover for a new post-Brexit customs facility.

Once complete, the site in Guston, near Dover, will open as a customs checkpoint facility, with the ability to hold 1,200 lorries, should there be delays at the ports similar to those seen last month. 

Diggers were at the Dover White Cliffs site in Guston on Monday to start work on a post-Brexit customs check point

Diggers were at the Dover White Cliffs site in Guston on Monday to start work on a post-Brexit customs check point

Work is underway on another customs checkpoint, with space for up to 1,700 lorries, in Sevington, Ashford

Work is underway on another customs checkpoint, with space for up to 1,700 lorries, in Sevington, Ashford

Kent will have five customs check facilities up and running by July, which will monitor traffic using the Eurotunnel and the Port of Dover

Kent will have five customs check facilities up and running by July, which will monitor traffic using the Eurotunnel and the Port of Dover  

The sites in Guston and Sevington are set to be used for post-Brexit customs checks to prevent delays at nearby ports – with three other sites in Kent set to also be up and running by July.

But villagers are up in arms over at Guston, referred to as the Dover White Cliffs site, amid fears it will replace Manston Airport as the main holding bay for lorries in the event of cross-Channel delays. 

Once up and running, the 70-acre Dover White Cliffs site will carry out checks for the Port of Dover, while Sevington will monitor Eurotunnel checks. 

Work on the Kent coast comes after thousands of lorries trapped were trapped in the county last month when France closed its border to Britain.

Lorry drivers were forced to park up at Manston Airport, where there is provision for 4,000 HGVs, as well as Ashford International Lorry Park, which has space for 200, while the M20 was also used as a holding bay under Operation Stack. 

Truckers clash with police at Manston Airport in Kent last month, where thousands of lorries were parked up as France closed its border with Britain

Truckers clash with police at Manston Airport in Kent last month, where thousands of lorries were parked up as France closed its border with Britain

Dark clouds loomed over thousands of lorries parked up at Manston airfield in Kent last month, as they waited to be given the green light to continue their journey over the Channel

Dark clouds loomed over thousands of lorries parked up at Manston airfield in Kent last month, as they waited to be given the green light to continue their journey over the Channel

Meanwhile, Kent Police has revealed it has issued more than 407 fines to HGV drivers who failed to obtain a valid Kent Access Permit before entering the county.

A further 152 HGV drivers have breached traffic regulation orders, including attempting to bypass Operation Brock.

Assistant Chief Constable Claire Nix of Kent Police said: ‘Whilst the majority of HGV drivers travelling to Europe via the Port of Dover or Eurotunnel are entering the county with a valid Kent Access Permit in place,

there are still too many who we are having to stop, fine and turn back to their point of origin.

‘If this trend continues then it could potentially lead to traffic disruption here in Kent, where the volume of freight is expected to increase significantly over the next few weeks.’ 

DailyMail Online


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