The volume of vehicles entering Britain with goods as businesses stockpile ahead of Brexit has rocketed by up to 40% in the past 48 hours.
Long queues of lorries on Kent’s roads have become a familiar sight in recent weeks, but with just two weeks to go until the deadline for Britain to leave the EU, the lack of a trade deal between the two is causing a headache for businesses.
Port of Dover chief executive Doug Bannister warned there is “significant uncertainty” around how prepared companies are for a no-deal Brexit.
He said: “We are a fortnight away from this momentous transition and so everything is going to come right down to the wire.
“We are going through a really busy period of time right now with the Brexit stockpiling, the diversion of cargo from other ports coming in through our gateway, it is a really important period of time.
“Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been seeing increases of typically between 20 and 25% over this time last year – but we have topped up some bigger numbers, yesterday we approached nearly 40%.”
With the busy Channel port processing about 10,000 lorries every 24 hours, such increases equate to thousands of vehicles.
The M20 in Kent has seen long queues of lorries heading to the border, with tailbacks stretching many miles.
Much of the spike in traffic stems from businesses getting in goods before Christmas, as well as Brexit stockpiling.
And shipments of personal protective equipment have been clogging UK ports, including Felixstowe in Suffolk, causing huge delays compounded by retailers and manufacturers importing goods for the Christmas shopping rush.
However, the increased volume ahead of 31 December may mean that the first weeks of 2021 are calmer for British ports, Bannister suggested.
“My hope is it allows traders and the hauliers and everyone to become accustomed with the new processes, so that when the volume begins to return again later in the month and into February, that we’ll have a higher proportion of people that can operate in this post-transition period environment.”
Lorries without the proper paperwork could face being turned away from the border from 1 January.
But Bannister said he is confident that Dover will be able to handle any uncertainty.
“Dover has a proven track record to handle disruption in a good successful way, and we are able to manage the disruption and importantly recover the position very swiftly indeed.
“That’s down to the high capacity, high frequency, high pace of our operation.”
Speaking in the European Parliament on Friday, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said it was "the moment of truth" for the two sides to come to an agreement.
He said there was still a "chance" of a deal, but the "path is very narrow".
Boris Johnson said the UK side was willing to "keep talking", but added: "Things are looking difficult and there is a gap that needs to be bridged."
Talks will resume in Brussels between the EU and UK after the prime minister and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke on Thursday night.
Von der Leyen said bridging "big differences", particularly on fishing rights, would be "very challenging", while Johnson said a no deal scenario was "very likely" unless the EU position changed "substantially".
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