Tuesday 1 December 2020 6:57 pm

Gove 'doesn't know' how many customs agents UK has ready for Brexit, says lorry group

The country’s largest lorry lobby group has said Michael Gove does not know how many customs agents the UK will have available post-Brexit and that there will be chaos at the border on 1 January deal or no deal.

Gove, the minister responsible for Brexit preparations, today refused in an interview to answer how many customs agents the UK has to prepare businesses for changes at the border from 1 January.

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The government has said the UK will need at least 50,000 customs agents after the UK leaves the EU’s single market and customs union on 31 December.

Road Haulage Association boss Richard Burnett told City A.M. today that he had spoken to Gove numerous times in the past week and it was clear the minister did not know how many customs agents the UK had ready to deal with increased form filling and border checks come 1 January.

Gove was contacted for comment.

Burnett said there were not enough agents operating in the UK and that the freight industry was not prepared for changes at the border.

“The complexity of what needs to be carried out between now and the end of the year is blowing businesses minds,” he said.

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The RHA boss said there would likely be long lorry queues in Kent even if a UK-EU trade deal is struck this year.

“This is going to be a mess unless you can negotiate a transition period…if not this is going to be an incredibly bumpy ride and it’s going to have a major impact on trade,” he said.

Customs agents and customs brokerage firms operate in the private sector and are hired to help logistics companies organise border crossings.

The government set up a £50m fund in a bid to increase the number of customs agents operating in the UK next year.

While there is uncertainty around what rules for next year will look like, some will be in place regardless of whether a trade deal is struck.

Lorry drivers will need a special permit to enter Kent, which they can only get if they have filled in the correct paperwork to transport goods to the EU.

There will also be lorry parks set up to conduct border checks where necessary.

A Cabinet Office document released earlier this year warned that 7,000-long lorry queues could form at the border if businesses are unprepared for next year’s changes.

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The government announced the creation today of a Border Operations Centre to help analyse and monitor the flow of goods in and out of the country.

“This will help us tackle challenges quickly and decisively, and give us increased information which will make us safer and more secure,” Gove said.