The government is drawing up plans for dealing with a massive increase in the number of lorries needing official paperwork in the wake of a potential no-deal Brexit.
Industry insiders have told Sky News they fear that document checks could lead to huge queues on the motorways leading to Channel ports in Kent – undermining work to speed lorries through from Dover to Calais.
At the moment, only a small fraction of hauliers need a permit – known as a transit document – to take goods between the UK and mainland Europe.
However, if the UK was to leave the EU without a deal, that figure could go up 10 times – perhaps more, with thousands of drivers needing to obtain permits.
Those documents have to be physically checked by an official at a registered office.
At the moment, there are just two of those locations near Dover – one, called Motis, which is right next to the port.
The other is located alongside the Stop24 Services, near Folkestone.
Paul Wells, the company’s director, told Sky News that the vast increase in the number of lorries needing transit documents “is going to be the killer”.
He said: “You can move export declarations and import declarations somewhere else, but there’s still the issue of a transit document to allow the vehicle to reach its destination without further checks within the EU.
“The big majority of them are still released physically on a computer system by an agent. There are still bits of paper.
“There are facilities to do this, but not many people have got these facilities. We are constrained by the number of staff that we have, the facilities we have, the experience. There is a limit to how many vehicles we can deal with.”
The port of Calais, along with Eurotunnel, have both spent millions of pounds on expanding their facilities on the French side of the border, in order to avoid disruption.
UK border officials have already said they would wave through as many lorries as possible to stop congestion.
But insiders say, while that work has eased some concerns, hauliers remain worried the work required to authorise transit documents could still lead to queues forming across Kent’s motorway network.
In an effort to mitigate the problem, Sky News can reveal that the government is planning to establish a temporary facility at Manston Airfield in Kent, to provide more capacity for drivers to authorise their declarations.
The airfield has the potential to park hundreds of lorries at a time – but it is also a 45-minute drive from Dover, sometimes along single-track roads.
At busy times, the journey can take more than an hour. A driver who has to detour there to have documents checked is likely to face a delay of at least two-and-a-half hours to their journey – and potentially much more.
“There is not a natural flow of traffic from Manston to Dover, and definitely not from Manston to Eurotunnel,” said Rob Hardy, a logistics expert from Oakland Invicta and a former director of Motis in Dover.
“Vehicles can wait at Manston while they’re having their transit documents authenticated, but creating a truck park doesn’t solve the problem.
“We’re treating the symptoms rather than the disease. We’ll go from, maybe a few hundred a day, to thousands, all needing transit documents to be authenticated, and we don’t have the capacity to deal with that.
“The queue can only grow. Our issue is if trucks start saying ‘I’m not doing this any more, the UK’s too difficult’. We can end up with the Hotel California problem – it’s easy to get in, but you feel you can never leave.”