France border chaos: EU companies ordered to prepare for red tape after Brexit

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Irrespective of whether London and Brussels reach a trade deal, with Michel Barnier and David Frost staging more talks this week, in barely two months the UK will sever its ties with the bloc. As a result, roughly five million trucks crossing the Channel annually will be required to submit paperwork to customs officials prior to being allowed to go through the Channel Tunnel or boarding ferries, with Dover-Calais being the shortest sea route.

Our infrastructure is ready but it relies on companies having taken on board the fact that with Brexit, there will be customs checks on all goods

Isabelle Braun-Lemaire

Isabelle Braun-Lemaire, Director General of Customs, said: “We consider that we, at French customs, are ready.

“Our infrastructure is ready but it relies on companies having taken on board the fact that with Brexit, there will be customs checks on all goods.

“And that’s a reality we think some companies have not taken into account yet.”

An estimated 100,000 French companies currently trade with the UK.

Ms Braun-Lemaire said she had no way to know precisely how many of them had prepared for changes.

She added: “Since trade is free today, we don’t know them. That’s tomorrow’s unknown.”

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British companies will likewise have to negotiate a wall of bureaucracy which threatens disruption at the border if they want to sell into the world’s biggest trading bloc.

New customs arrangements do not depend on current negotiations on the future relationship, given the UK is leaving the Customs Union no matter what.

But Ms Braun-Lemaire said political tensions meant communication with the UK had been kept to a minimum.

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She explained: “We can’t have technical discussions that are as frank as we could have had.

“We’re not naive. We don’t know everything.”

However, in a strange twist of fate, the coronavirus epidemic, which has significantly reduced traffic across the Channel, may make things a little easier.

Jean-Michel Thillier, the French customs Brexit organiser in the region around Calais, said: “The health crisis might help, in a way, by reducing traffic.

“So we might have a bit of respite at the beginning of the year.”

Added paperwork is also likely to cause delays for British lorries heading in the opposite direction.

A letter leaked from Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster last month suggested in a “worst case scenario” 30 and 50 percent of trucks would not have the correct paperwork.

Additionally, a “lack of capacity to hold unready trucks at French ports” could reduce the flow of traffic across the Channel to between 60 to 80 percent of normal levels.

The letter warned of queues of up to 7,000 port-bound trucks in Kent and delays of up to two days.

Disruption could last three months, it added.

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