| 9.6°C Belfast

Brexit: Quiet January 1 is 'calm before storm for freight firms'


Lorries leaving the Stena Line terminal in Belfast yesterday

Lorries leaving the Stena Line terminal in Belfast yesterday


Lorries leaving the Stena Line terminal in Belfast yesterday

Friday may have marked the first day of the UK's separation from the EU - but for many logistics firms it marks the calm before the storm as more documentation and red tape is expected to cause delays at ports here.

The first ferry from Britain operating under the terms of Northern Ireland Protocol docked in Belfast at 1.45pm on Friday. The Stena Line ship arrived at Belfast Port from Cairnryan on schedule.

On the opposite side of the water, business was quiet in Scotland, with no queues or disruption.

Around 14 freight lorries were joined by a handful of cars on the first ferry to dock under the new rules.

And the Port of Dover reported on Friday that "everything is running smoothly".

As of New Year's Day, new documentation is required between EU member states and Britain.

The Protocol, which was created to avoid disrupting cross-border trade, also means that any goods coming from Britain are subject to EU checks and documentation.

Nigel Moore of McBurney Transport, which has bases in Belfast and Ballymena, said Friday was no reflection of what was to come.

He said New Year's Day did not illustrate "the full negative effect this will have on GB-NI movements, as there is very little moving".

He said HMRC had given goods loaded on New Year's Eve a 23-hour pass on paper work but despite that some reports from docks indicated complications.

Seamus Leheny, policy manager at the Northern Ireland Freight Association, said that 20-30 minute delays were already evident in some places due to declarations' "admin-heavy" processes. And Stena Line, which had called on the EU to allow for a grace period while it came up to speed with the bureaucracy around our exit, said: "Currently, traffic is flowing well through our ports across the UK and Ireland with occasional turnaways due to paperwork issues, but in the main the IT and regulatory systems are working well.

"At present freight traffic volumes are markedly down on pre-Christmas/Brexit stockpiling levels and Stena Line will be working with the authorities in the weeks and months ahead to help ensure the free flow of traffic continues as freight volumes begin to rise again.

"There will be an adjustment period while businesses get used to the new procedures, so for any hauliers that have not registered on the customs systems, Stena Line would urge them obtain the correct references before they arrive at check-in, otherwise they may not be allowed access into ports."

In the Republic ports were beginning to feel the weight of increased red tape, with one haulage professional warning of "mayhem" at the harbours in the coming weeks.

Eugene Drennan, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA), said that a lack of practice on the new set-up would make its self known imminently.

He said: "The systems have not been tested, they have not been tried. There will be delays, for sure. The mayhem that's coming in Dublin Port is unbelievable."

Looking to the year ahead, president of the NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry Ian Henry, said 2021 began with "even greater turbulence for supply chains, trade and markets - and higher costs for us all, leaving us with a disadvantage". But many warn there is more to come.

Belfast Telegraph