Brexit Customs Problems Begin at Holyhead and Dover

Ro/pax ferries at Holyhead Port (file image)

Published Jan 8, 2021 2:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

Ireland's customs agency has introduced a workaround for British exporters who are having trouble completing the paperwork required for international shipments between the UK and Ireland. Before January 1, both were within the EU customs union and trade could pass between them with few impediments; now that the Brexit transition period has ended, shippers must complete extensive customs declarations for cross-border movement of goods. 

While significant numbers of businesses are properly submitting the newly-required Entry Summary Declaration (ENS) required by Ireland's Revenue Commissioners, the agency "recognizes that some businesses are experiencing difficulties in lodging their safety and security ENS declaration in respect of RoRo goods movements."

Due to the disruption caused by businesses' difficulties in completing the forms, top Britain-to-Ireland ferry operator Stena Line has canceled 12 sailings over the next five days. Freight volumes have fallen and ro/ro ferries have been running at low capacity, the firm says, and trucks carrying cargoes without the right paperwork have been denied permission to board at the key Irish Sea port of Holyhead. 

In response, Ireland's revenue service is giving shippers a special code to use for their Pre-Boarding Notification (PBN) paperwork when they can't create one the usual way "due to the absence of key information or because of other impediments." This bypass allows them to complete customs formalities and get their goods on board ferries. "Take-up of this temporary facilitation will be a signal to Revenue that you need support," the agency told shippers. 

"It is clear that many were not as prepared as they thought or significantly underestimated what was involved in being Brexit-ready," a Revenue spokesperson told Reuters. 

Customs challenges driven by Brexit have been predicted for years, and these difficulties are beginning to manifest on the UK's cross-channel ferry routes as well. 

"We are experiencing a high volume of vehicles being refused and delayed at the Ports of Calais, Dunkerque and Dover, due to incorrect paperwork being presented at check-in," cautioned ferry operator DFDS on Friday. 

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said Friday that the UK government would "redouble our efforts to communicate the precise paperwork that's required," but he warned that "in the weeks ahead, we expect that there will be significant additional disruption - particularly on the Dover-Calais route."

Truckers and passengers face an additional hurdle on France-bound routes: as the UK enters its third COVID-19 lockdown, all individuals are required to obtain a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours prior to boarding. All are advised to obtain a free test at one of three dozen available sites before arriving at Dover in order to reduce congestion.