B is for Borders
Getting your head around all the issues for logistics thrown up by Brexit is a big job. So FTA is helping by grouping its ten biggest concerns in an alphabetical listing, A through to Z and explaining each one in a monthly blog. Our second blog focuses on the most politically contentious issue of them all, the nation’s borders.
“Take back control of our borders” was the mantra of the Leave campaign during the Referendum. And in the immediate aftermath of the vote to quit the EU French politicians are queuing up to help the UK do just that! Literally, relocate the British border controls that had been ‘juxtaposed’ into Northern France since 2003 back onto UK soil. But to do so would reduce cross-channel traffic to a trickle and jeopardise vital UK supply chains reliant on frequent reliable services across the Channel. So whilst having no view on the merits or otherwise of immigration, FTA is mightily concerned on members’ behalf about the prospects of repatriation of the UK’s border controls.
The trouble with bringing back the border onto UK territory is that checks on vehicles for illegal immigrants would be carried out after the ferry or Shuttle train arrives in the UK. Detected stowaways concealed in trailers would be removed and become the problem of the UK government, rather than the French government as they are now. And getting the opportunity to claim asylum in the UK is the goal of most of those encamped around Calais and other French ports. So taking back our borders in this way would make the problem of illegal stowaways on trucks far worse rather than solve it.
But it gets worse. There is nowhere to put any new border controls in the congested and confined terminals at the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel terminal at Folkestone and the road layouts have all been built without the need for further checks once ferries and trains have arrived. Even if space could be found, introducing immigration and customs controls would reduce the throughput of the terminals and slash the frequency of crossings – there would be no point leaving France if the vehicles couldn’t get off in England because the queue for passport control had backed up onto the quayside or arrival platform!
As a result, the service frequency would collapse from the 40- 50 or so ferry and Shuttle crossings a day currently available to whatever could be accommodated through a limited number of immigration booths and vehicle screening bays. Long queues would build up in France, presenting migrants with lines of stationery lorries vulnerable to attempts at breaking in and stowing away to Britain. Just look at how quickly the queues of cars and trucks built up in Kent earlier this Summer when French passport inspections were stepped up at Dover but not enough inspectors were rostered to cope.
Hopefully, this depressing scenario can be avoided. The French President has promised to retain the current border arrangements and is also committed to rehousing the migrants away from the makeshift Jungle camp at Calais and begin processing them through the French asylum system. He aims to do this by February, which if achieved will mean the principal source of threats to international truck drivers passing through Calais has finally been removed before the Presidential elections take place in March. This could be enough to make the repatriation of the border controls a politically pointless exercise for whoever wins.
This is how it should be. FTA has consistently put responsibility for sorting out the humanitarian crisis and the near-collapse in public order that is Calais squarely at the door of the French government. It is simply unacceptable that truck drivers going about their lawful business are subject to violence, threats, attempted hijackings and intimidation. The UK’s borders are likely to become even more difficult to cross after Brexit and FTA will be ensuring the safety and protection of drivers and vehicles and supply chains are high priority issues in any negotiations. But it is demeaning and disrespectful to the hundreds of truck drivers who, in the meantime, put up every day with the frustrations (and much worse) of those denied entry, to suggest that the UK does not already have a high degree of control of its borders.
Next on FTA's A-Z of Brexit: C is for Customs
You can find out more about what Brexit means for logistics via FTA's dedicated Brexit centre where you can find the latest news on Brexit and logistics, see what FTA is doing and join our regular webinars and events around the potential effects on your business.
(The views and opinions expressed by the authors of these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Freight Transport Association)