The first trucks have crossed from the UK to EU after Brexit rules finally kicked in at 11pm last night.
Eddie Stobart HGV driver Slavi Ivanov Shumeykov smiled and waved as he became the first to pass through customs at the Eurotunnel in Kent.
And the first ferry from Holyhead arrived at Dublin Port at 5.55am, carrying around a dozen trucks with no delays.
In Calais, a barcode on Romanian driver Toma Moise’s paperwork was scanned and approved in seconds. « The future, I don’t think it will be difficult, » he said before continuing his journey towards Britain.
Eurotunnel spokesman John Keefe said “it all went fine” adding: “It’s very, very quiet, there are very few trucks around, as we predicted.”
Eddie Stobart HGV driver Slavi Ivanov Shumeykov smiled and waved as he became the first to pass through customs at the Eurotunnel in Kent
UK officials were not expecting big delays today, because it is a bank holiday and some hauliers are steering clear of the border to test the waters.
But the government opened a string of Brexit lorry parks at 11pm last night as officials brace for disruption in the coming weeks.
Ten lorry parks were planned, some to open in January and some to open in July.
A Ukrainian truck driver, named as Victor, was said to be the first to arrive in France from the UK after the new restrictions kicked in
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Asked how many of the 10 lorry parks were opening, officials said they were all opening last night. The details of each individual lorry park were unclear though.
One, Sevington in Ashford, will only be used as a holding area for traffic if needs be but is not yet ready for customs declarations.
The UK has left the EU’s single market and customs union, adding a heap of paperwork to what used to be seamless journeys to Europe.
The ferry port at Dover was quiet overnight as the first ferry arrived from Calais on January 1
While UK import controls are being phased in between now and July, all export controls to the EU started at 11pm.
That means UK firms need to make customs declarations on exports and ensure they have the right permissions for controlled goods.
A customs dog inspects a truck coming from Britain at the harbour of Calais this morning. Customs declarations are needed straight away on exports from the UK to the EU – though not on all imports the other way round
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Hauliers heading from the UK to EU also need a ‘Kent Access Permit’ – nicknamed a ‘Kermit’ by local officials – to enter the port county.
HGV drivers will be fined £300 and forced to leave the county if they enter Kent without the new-style, 24-hour-valid permit.
Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency officers will use numberplate recognition cameras and pull over lorries that aren’t registered for a Kermit.
While Kent-based or UK-only hauliers won’t be pulled over, it’s possible other truckers making local deliveries to Kent will have to show their papers.
Dawn breaks over the Port of Dover on the first day after Brexit rules kicked in
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The government’s reasonable worst case scenario plans for only 30% of lorries being ready when they reach the Kent ports.
This would cause queues of up to 7,000 lorries at a time. Lorry parks and other facilities have room for 9,700.
But this could worsen, as the scenario didn’t factor in the new need for a negative Covid-19 test result before hauliers cross the border.
And a 33ft-deep sinkhole opened at the hastily-opened Manston Airport lorry park in Kent yesterday, with a 50 HGV-sized area cordoned off.
A ferry heads for France after leaving the Port of Dover in Kent this morning
However, officials were only expecting around 800 lorries to cross the Channel today, far fewer than normal.
Holidaymakers should also not be heading to the ports because 78% of England is in Tier 4, which bans foreign travel.
As of New Year’s Eve, around 450 hauliers had obtained Kent Access Permits to enter the port county on New Year’s Day.
Officials expect the numbers to tick up in the coming days, so any disruption may only happen in the coming weeks.
The first vehicle entering the Eurotunnel terminal in northern France after Brexit rules kicked in
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The president of the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) claimed there would be « trouble and chaos » in the coming weeks.
Eugene Drennan said: “There will be delays, for sure. The mayhem that’s coming in Dublin Port is unbelievable.
« They’ve done nothing to alleviate it. They have a plan that is absolutely nonsensical, and the nature of it and how it is laid out and the structure of it, it is going to cause a lot of grief.”
Meanwhile, it’s understand officials want urgent talks on ending the ban on exporting chilled sausages from the UK to the EU.
The largely empty harbour of Calais last night
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An SPS committee on trade facilitation will meet and government officials hope the sausage block will be raised in the early stages.
They have however secured a last-minute grace period for parcels going to Northern Ireland, which means no up-front declarations will be needed on most packages going across the Irish Sea until April 1.
Boris Johnson today boasted Brexit offered the opportunity to “transform our country” as he hinted he could make different laws on the environment, state aid or workers’ rights.
The PM wrote in the Telegraph: “Sometimes we will need to regulate differently or better, and that may mean taking advantage of Brexit’s freedoms.
Officials believe many hauliers are avoiding ports like Dover (pictured) in the first few days
“And we will also need the state to lead, to make the investments in infrastructure, education and technology that will create the framework for business to invest.”
But the 1,246-page deal he signed says the UK could be hit with tariffs if its legal changes are seen to undercut businesses in the EU.
Mr Johnson said the decision to leave the single market and customs union ended a « 47-year experiment » of European Union membership.
He said the EU had provided the UK with a « safe European home » during the 1970s, but the country has now « changed out of all recognition » with global perspectives.
The UK is « free to do things differently, and if necessary better, than our friends in the EU » in 2021, he said in a video message to mark New Year.