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Italian Lorry Driver Slams Post-Brexit Border Chaos: "Simply Shocking" 55-Hour Ordeal

An Italian lorry driver has criticised the UK's new post-Brexit controls, describing them as a “mess” after his vehicle was detained at a government-run border post for over two days.

Antonio Soprano, 62, was stopped while transporting plants from central Italy. During his 55-hour ordeal, he was offered no food and was instead advised by border officials to walk to a McDonald’s over a mile away for a meal.

After finally being released from the Sevington facility in Ashford, Kent, in the early hours, he faced further frustration when his lorry was clamped, necessitating a £185 fine after struggling to find parking overnight.

Nigel Jenney, Chief Executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC), described the situation as “simply shocking yet again,” criticising the “series of official excuses for why officials aren’t responsible for a huge 55-hour wait.”

The incident occurred just over a month after the government implemented new post-Brexit regulations on 30 April. These regulations mandate that some lorries carrying plant and animal goods from the continent be inspected at designated border control posts along the British coast.

The checks, intended to prevent diseases from entering the UK, are designed to be completed within four working hours. However, vehicles can be detained longer if inspectors detect potential risks.

Soprano, a driver for the Italian haulage company Marini, was transporting plants from Italian suppliers to British companies when he was directed to travel 22 miles from Dover to the Sevington border post for inspection.

Upon arrival, Soprano was immediately directed to a waiting area, his keys were taken, and he was ordered to wait without any explanation. Soprano, who does not speak English, claimed that he was repeatedly told to wait without any clarification about the situation. The waiting facilities for drivers consist of a small room with a few tables, offering only water and no food.

He recounted, “They told me to go and eat at a McDonald’s, which was 2km away, by foot. In the end, I found a supermarket but we had no services apart from a toilet.”

The lorry was detained due to concerns about 10 Prunus lusitanica plants, which border officials suspected might harbour harmful pests. These concerns were raised hours after the lorry’s arrival at 6.30 pm on 26 May, with officials attributing the delays to health and safety issues preventing the plants from being unloaded.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs explained that the initial inspection was delayed because the driver needed to take an 11-hour rest break, known as a tacho break, while at Sevington. The absence of a load plan and problems with how the lorry was loaded necessitated additional measures for a safe inspection.

Jenney added, “How can a hugely expensive facility neither offer appropriate driver wellbeing facilities nor effectively unload a consignment regardless of condition in a timely manner for inspection?”

Officials finally cleared the plants, allowing the vehicle to be released just after 1 am on 29 May, roughly 55 hours after its arrival. Prohibited from staying overnight at Sevington and needing to rest due to EU driver regulations, Soprano had to park at a McDonald’s car park, as the nearest lorry park was full. He awoke to find his lorry had been clamped and was only released after paying a £185 fine.

He remarked, “I understand they need to do the controls but this behaviour is not normal, it was a mess. I don’t know why we had to wait for so long. I have to go to England for work, I have no choice, but this was not normal.”

Jenney questioned, “It would be interesting to know how long the vehicle was held before the inspection even commenced.” He emphasised that “business and driver goodwill is exhausted so a new approach is essential to ensure our shelves are stocked with affordable goods. Let’s not forget this strategy adds £200m to our sector alone.”

This incident follows a report by the Guardian last month that some lorry drivers were held for nearly 20 hours at the Sevington border control post after an IT outage caused significant delays for perishable goods entering the country.

Vicenzo Marini, the chief executive of Marini, which sends 15 lorries weekly to the UK, described the situation as “surreal.” He stated that the new checks and customs requirements post-Brexit had made transporting goods to the UK much more challenging. The company, which has been operating UK routes since the 1980s, is now considering abandoning them due to the new controls and drivers’ fears of migrants their lorries.

Jenney highlighted the financial burden on businesses, saying, “A business usually pays £14.5k (per 100 consignments) for UK government-imposed common user fees to receive a handful of actual official inspections and simply shocking customer service. Never mind huge additional costs which are totally avoidable.”

This incident comes after repeated warnings from horticultural trade bodies about the feasibility of checking plant products at the border and the capacity of border staff to load and unload lorries. In January, James Barnes, the chair of the Horticultural Trades Association, expressed concerns to the Guardian about whether border control posts had the infrastructure and capability to manage the “diverse horticultural loads” from the continent.

Source: The Guardian


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