Fears over 'pressure' of Brexit border checks

A bleak picture has emerged about the logistical challenges of UK border checks in the county amid Brexit. Kent County Council's (KCC) Trading Standards will face 'additional demands' across the region, particularly at the port of Dover, once the transition period for the UK's departure from European Union (EU) ends on December 31.

KCC Trading Standards will face additional demands across the region, particularly at the port of Dover. Stock picture KCC Trading Standards will face additional demands across the region, particularly at the port of Dover. Stock picture

Between six and 12 additional staff will need to be hired to carry out extra work, it has emerged. This may include checking unsafe goods at customs sites, including Ashford and Ebbsfleet lorry parks, and, inspecting animal feed.

A KCC document published earlier today states: "This could put pressure on the port team's capacity to deal with goods within the legal time frame and may increase pressure on recruiting additional staff."

A team of just six people work in Dover. At the border, they are responsible for preventing unsafe and "non-compliant" goods from entering the UK. Examples of products include clothing, toys and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Document checks, and, physical examination of goods can be carried out and if found to be unsafe, the goods will be re-exported, destroyed or prevented from entering the country.

This happens at the expense of the importers. However, more pressure will be put on KCC Trading Standards next year as the Brexit December deadline looms, Kent county councillors have been told.

Goods could be checked at at customs sites, including Ashford (pictured) and Ebbsfleet lorry parks after the Brexit transition period ends. Stock picture Goods could be checked at at customs sites, including Ashford (pictured) and Ebbsfleet lorry parks after the Brexit transition period ends. Stock picture

A dossier published to a KCC committee says: "At this time, we are predicting the average number of referrals will increase to around five times the current rate, which would be between 1,320 and 2,640 referrals a year." The port team has been significantly involved in preparations since 2016, but are now worried about a spike in referrals in managing both EU and non-EU products coming into the port of Dover and Eurotunnel from next year.

Under the current EU system, goods from countries outside the EU can clear at any border point in the EU. Once cleared the goods have "free movement" throughout the EU, including entry through Dover and Eurotunnel. After the Brexit transition period ends this will not happen, and goods destined for the UK from outside the EU will need to be cleared at the UK border.

A KCC report adds: "Currently we do not know the potential volume increase."

After the Brexit transition period ends, goods destined for the UK from outside the EU will need to be cleared at the UK border. Picture: Ant Clausen, Peel Ports After the Brexit transition period ends, goods destined for the UK from outside the EU will need to be cleared at the UK border.

Picture: Ant Clausen, Peel Ports

Urgent calls have been made to increase workforce levels, but experienced staff appears to be short in supply. Apprenticeships are being considered by KCC, but it would take three years for the individual to become fully qualified. A KCC report published to Maidstone County Hall's communities committee adds: "Recruitment has become increasingly difficult as the pool of Trading Standards staff is also diminishing nationally."

More than 776,000 goods have been checked by Trading Standards this year, with around GBP1m of cocaine found along with 36,000 illegal surgical masks. Presently, referrals to KCC Trading Standards have been increasing, with most of the cases involving clothing products originating from Bulgaria. Kent county councillors will discuss the challenges faced by Trading Standards at a virtual public meeting next Tuesday (Nov 17) from 10am.

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