Truckers Shun U.K. Ports to Avoid Brexit Red Tape

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HOLYHEAD, Wales — Beneath swirling gray clouds, Bryan Anderson leaned from the cab window of his truck to vent his frustration at the new paperwork that had already delayed his journey through Britain’s second-largest ferry port by half a day.

“It’s a nightmare,” Mr. Anderson said, explaining how he spent hours waiting at a depot 250 miles away for export documents required because of Brexit. The delay meant he reached Holyhead, in Wales, too late for the ferry he planned to take to Dublin, and for the next one, too.

“I am roughly 12 hours behind schedule,” he said as he prepared, finally, to drive aboard the Stena Adventurer to Dublin to drop off a consignment of parcels for Ireland’s mail service.

Fear of hassles and red tape stemming from the introduction of the new rules governing Britain’s trade with the European Union that came into effect on Jan. 1 led to dire predictions of overwhelming gridlock at British ports.

But, so far, the opposite has happened. Apart from hardy souls like Mr. Anderson, truckers are increasingly shunning ports like Holyhead. They are fearful of the mountains of paperwork now required for journeys that last month involved little more than driving on to a ferry in one country and off it in another.

On Thursday, just a couple of dozen other trucks stood waiting for the same ferry as Mr. Anderson in a vast but almost empty port-side parking lot. Holyhead is operating at half its normal capacity and staff have been placed on furlough.

“It’s too much hassle to go through,” Mr. Anderson said.

After months of uncertainty and tense negotiations, Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally struck a trade deal with the European Union on Christmas Eve. So when Britain left Europe’s single market and customs union on Jan. 1, it avoided the chaos seen during a dress-rehearsal border closure by French officials in December.

Yet the old system that allowed frictionless travel to and from European nations is over. Despite claims by its supporters that Brexit would reduce bureaucracy, companies need to produce millions of customs declarations as well as new documentation like health certifications for food and proof of origin for a wide variety of goods. Shipments of mixed goods — like the parcels Mr. Anderson was carrying — can mean a plethora of paperwork for drivers to cover everything being carried.

Across Britain, the impact of the rules has caught traders by surprise, setting off a chain reaction that has threatened some jobs and livelihoods.

Before the Brexit changes, that journey via the “land bridge” was cheap and reliable, required almost no paperwork and allowed trucks to drop off loads along the way.

“It is clear that trade is down massively through the port,” he said. “I hope this is a temporary phenomenon but I fear that new patterns of trading are being established here and I worry for jobs. The smaller the traffic through the port, the fewer people you need to work at the port.”

Virginia Crosbie, a lawmaker with Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party, said she expected “that the fluctuations in transport patterns we are seeing at the moment will be short term,” citing the benefits of the “land-bridge” route through England.

And while companies should get better at completing paperwork, they face additional changes in the future. The British government is phasing in its own post-Brexit rules, waving most imports through.

But, from July, it will apply full controls as the Irish and French do now.

“We are only in phase one of Brexit, we have another one coming in July,” said Mr. Calderbank.

“The only way I can explain it is to say that everything used to run freely, there was no waiting for paperwork; but last Friday I was held up five hours in Kent,” he said.

“We are all stuck in limbo — one of our lads was here for four days early in January,” Mr. Lucas said. “It’s terrible, absolutely terrible,” he added, and “I can only see it getting worse before it gets better.”

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