Mass confusion over freight paperwork could trigger long tailbacks at Britain's borders and damage the flow of vital goods, Whitehall officials have admitted in a leaked document.
Lorry drivers without the right details risk being stopped from boarding ferries bound for the European Union or when they land at EU ports, according to the 206-page study – with hauliers fined or sent back to Britain as a result.
The Border With The European Union document acknowledged this could “lead to significant queues and delays on the roads approaching ports in the UK if a high volume of HGVs do not have the correct documentation”. It is due to be made public later today.
Haulage groups said that the new Brexit guidance fails to answer critical questions about the customs checks which more than 10,000 lorries will face every day as they head through UK ports after the transition period ends.
There are particular concerns around the Smart Freight System, a web portal where every lorry driver leaving Britain will be required to submit information about goods travelling to the EU from January, regardless of whether there is a trade deal.
The document failed to spell out exactly what paperwork will be required. Instead, it said: “Further information regarding the type of data to be submitted to the web portal will be provided as part of UK Government guidance to industry in future."
It leaves hauliers in the dark about what they will need to prepare, just months from the December Brexit deadline.
Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association said it is unfair for the buck to stop with drivers for wrongly completed forms.
He said: “They’re doing a job they’ve been asked to do by exporting traders. It’s not the same as fining a motorist for breaking the speed limit. To have this administrative responsibility and potentially a financial penalty is unjust.
"There are 200 pages of so-called detail here but no clarity to enable traders and hauliers to operate across borders in 2021."