Highways England outsources employment of 50 staff to check lorry Customs paperwork on M20.

In anticipation the UK possibly leaving the EU Customs Union on 31st October 2019, the Highways Agency is outsourcing the employment of 50 staff to check the Customs paperwork of lorries waiting for Customs at Dover and Eurotunnel on the M20 coastbound between Hollingbourne and Ashford. The Highways Agency has declined to say how local residents can apply for these Operation Brock jobs which theoretically will only be needed if the UK leaves the UK Customs Union.

At the moment Operation Brock is expected to be activated at 6am on Monday 28th October in anticipation of the UK leaving the EU and the EU Customs Union at 11pm on Thursday 31st October. If the present “deal” which is currently being considered by Parliament is accepted, then a transition period will start on 1st November which will last until 31st December 2020 when the UK will leave the Customs Union. Alternatively if the EU grant an extension to 31st January 2020 or some other date then, the UK will remain in the Customs Union until then when it will either leave the Customs Union or start another transition period.

The statement from the Highways Agency reads as follows:

We have been asked by The Department of Transport to conduct mandatory border readiness checks for all cross-channel goods vehicles. We will be using a third-party supplier to carry out this service. As the checks are mandatory, and vehicles that avoid the checks are subject to a penalty, the personnel conducting these checks need to have the powers of a Highways England Traffic Officer. The staff contracted for this purpose will therefore be designated under the same act as current Traffic Officers, with limited powers, and will be able to check goods vehicle crossing the Dover straights. These powers are only in force within the Brock boundaries (M20 J8-9) and whilst Operation Brock is active. Their powers will be removed when Brock is deactivated

Last week it emerged that only about 10% of the freight lorries using Dover and Eurotunnel have registered with HMRC for relatively seamless Customs checks at Dover and Eurotunnel and that it is planned that vehicles will be allowed up to two days in Kent to obtain the necessary paperwork. Some 2100 lorries will be stored on the M20 between Junction 8 in Hollingbourne and Junction 9 in Ashford with thousands more at Manston Airport, around Dover, and on the M26. Maidstone Borough Council Brexit planners have advised local Parish Councils that there could be traffic problems for months across a swathe of Mid Kent from Headcorn to Stockbury. (Please see map at the bottom of the page for the areas most at risk of traffic problems).

No information is available about where these Customs checkers will be based or how they will access the M20 if there are traffic problems in the area. While the M20 coastbound is used for storing lorries for up to two days without any facilities for drivers, the 13 mile London bound side will be used for a contraflow system with a 50mph speed limit. Concern has been expressed about the safety of this arrangement as there are no refuges and accidents already happen on the M20 almost daily. Currently some 16,000 lorries a day pass through Dover and Eurotunnel and most use the M20 at Hollingbourne.

Once the UK leaves the EU Customs Union the UK will be able to negotiate separate trade deals over the next few years but in the meanwhile all trade will be subject to WTO tariffs which could increase the price of imported goods and UK exports. In the circumstances it seems that Operation Brock could last for some years. In the unlikely event that Parliament decided to revoke Article 50 Operation Brock would not be necessary and the associated issues would not arise.

Pictured below is a trial run of Operation Brock in March 2019 which was the previous date for Brexit (top) and traffic map (bottom).

Junction 8 of the M20 with the closed up coast bound access on the right.
Kent areas at risk of traffic problems if the UK leaves the EU Customs Union.