Europe’s largest truck owner has warned it could turn away deliveries to the UK if Brexit triggers chaos at the border, a move that could threaten supermarkets’ supplies of fresh produce.
With a little more than two weeks until the UK leaves the European Union’s single market, Kristian Kaas Mortensen, an executive at Girteka Logistics, said he expects queues at the border that could stretch as far as 31 miles. Hold-ups could force his firm, which owns 7,500 trucks, as well as its rivals to limit bookings to the UK he said in an interview.
The UK has told businesses to brace for disruption at the border next month regardless of whether it signs a trade deal with the EU. In its worst-case scenario, it expects a queue of 7,000 trucks at the port of Dover. The government blames companies for not doing enough to prepare for the new customs checks and paperwork that will be needed after Dec. 31.
“What does it help to be prepared when you can’t even reach the territory?” Mortensen said. “Both the small guy and the big guy will in that case say ‘this looks like a situation it’s better to avoid for the next three to six months.’”
Girteka Logistics isn’t alone. The Road Haulage Association, an industry lobby group, says a number of EU hauliers aren’t taking bookings for deliveries to the UK in January. The cost of keeping trucks and their drivers waiting in line for 24 hours may not be worth the value of their contracts, according to the RHA.
Last month, the government published a 40-page handbook advising commercial drivers of the measures they need to take to enter the UK With more than 90% of trucking companies having fewer than 10 lorries, Mortensen says the potential for smaller firms to arrive with the wrong paperwork is huge, leading to lengthy delays for everyone.
Of particular concern is the raft of food and produce the UK imports, Mortensen said. Delays could see everything from bananas to salmon passing their use-by dates aboard trucks and being unusable by the time they reach their destinations.
“It looks very concerning at the moment,” he said. “Chaos and unpredictability can lead to trucking capacity being allocated to other markets, leaving UK supermarkets with less than full shelves.”
Last week, the chairman of supermarket chain Tesco Plc, John Allan, warned of shortages of fresh produce for a month or two after Dec. 31, and said shoppers could expect to pay more for their food.