In most years, the big question is whether or not there will be snow at Christmas. This year, the big question is whether or not Christmas will actually happen. More accurately, the big question is whether or not it will actually happen on time.
From hot gifts to cold turkeys
Every year, there are some “must-have” gifts which just disappear at Christmas and can’t be restocked in time. This year, however, the UK may be looking at shortages of more essential Christmas items. At the moment, it’s unclear what will be delayed, but given the state of the UK’s ports even now, it seems difficult to believe that Christmas will proceed as it should.
Chaos at Felixstowe
Between COVID19 stockpiling, the need to import PPE and the run-up to Christmas, it’s probably fair to say that right now Felixstowe is in chaos. Port authorities expect the difficulties to continue past Christmas and potentially into the New Year. That would be right in time for Brexit.
As Felixstowe handles around 40% of all the UK’s container traffic (incoming and outgoing), it is facing the biggest challenges. It is, however, far from alone in its struggles. According to reports, London Gateway and Southampton are both facing similar issues, albeit on a smaller scale.
All port authorities are doing everything they can to resolve the situation. The government will, however, have to assist, at least with its own imports. For example, according to estimates, about 30% of the inbound container capacity at Felixstowe is being taken up by PPE ordered by the government.
Five-hour delays at Folkestone
As if the prospect of a curtailed Christmas wasn’t bad enough, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of good tidings for the New Year, at least not in the haulage industry. The French authorities recently conducted a test of their post-Brexit process. It led to five-hour delays at Felixstowe.
Admittedly, it has been suggested that these delays were essentially because the situation was a test. In other words, you can’t expect people to get it right the first time. It’s also been suggested that the French authorities deployed fewer agents than they would (or at least should) have done in a “live” environment.
It would be nice to think that both of these points are true and will be addressed. It is fair to say that the UK government has indicated that it intends to phase-in these checks on their side precisely to avoid gridlock. Only time will tell what difference, if any, this makes.
A continuing lack of customs agents in the UK
Anyone who’s been paying attention to job adverts will probably have noticed that there are adverts for customs agents all over the place. In fact, there are so many of them that it would be practically impossible to avoid noticing them. In addition to adverts for general customs staff, there are also adverts for staff to implement the NI protocol.
Rather ironically, freight expeditors have been turning to overseas staff to get the skills and knowledge the UK lacks. Romania and India have proved especially popular. Not only is Romania a relatively new EU member, but it also shares land borders with Moldova and Ukraine and has access to the Black Sea. This means that it has plenty of experienced customs agents.
India, of course, is used to trading with the UK on non-EU terms and English is widely spoken there. There is also a major salary differential between these countries and the UK, which is also appealing to employers. Again, only time will tell how well these working arrangements actually function in practice.