After the UK left the EU internal market, border traffic with the European Union continued largely smoothly on New Year’s Day. Around 200 trucks crossed the tunnel under the English Channel on Friday night “without problems,” as the operator group Getlink announced. “The traffic was pretty steady for an extraordinary and historic night, everything went well.” All the truck drivers had completed the formalities required by Brexit, no one was stopped.
On the French side, the new regulations came into force at midnight. A van from Romania loaded with letters and parcels was the first truck to stop at the checkpoint. In addition to the usual security checks, the officers also scanned the license plate.
“I’m very happy, it’s a privilege for me,” said 62-year-old truck driver Toma Moise before the mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, pressed the button that allowed them to continue. A video on the official Twitter channel “Eurotunnel Company News” shows how the barrier is lifted for the first time on New Year’s morning.
Around 70 percent of trade between the UK and the EU is handled via the French ports of Calais and Dunkirk. On average, 60,000 passengers and 12,000 trucks pass through the two ports every day. From now on, transport companies have to register their goods with French customs, which is done in advance using a “Smart Border” system.
Great Britain was the first country in the history of the European community to leave the EU on February 1st. The post-Brexit agreement, which regulates numerous trade and customs issues, was only agreed at the last minute on December 24th. The agreement is intended to prevent chaos in mutual economic relations – without the deal, delivery problems and long border jams would have threatened from Friday.
The time until the end of the year was no longer sufficient for a regular ratification process with the approval of the EU Parliament. Therefore, the agreed rules are to be applied temporarily until at least February 28th. According to the Road Haulage Association, 220 million forms have to be filled out every day in order to organize trade between Great Britain and the EU.
The authorities had announced that they would initially handle the new regulations quite loosely. “The government cannot expect companies to have all the paperwork ready in the short time,” said Tudor Price, deputy head of the Kent Chamber of Commerce.
In Ireland, however, the government warned of delays in the movement of goods. Trade will certainly be disrupted “by a great deal more controls, customs declarations, bureaucracy and paperwork,” Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney told the BBC. The British province of Northern Ireland is de facto still a member of the internal market, but there is now a customs border in the Irish Sea.
The ferry operator Stena Line tweeted that six freight deliveries could not leave the port in Holyhead, Welsh, as planned on Friday morning and cross to Ireland because their documents were incomplete.
Great Britain has not been a member of the EU internal market or the customs union since midnight. The celebrations went very quietly, on New Year’s Eve the streets in the British capital were almost empty.
A few hours before the final completion of Brexit, the last stumbling blocks were cleared out of the way: the governments in London and Madrid reached an agreement in principle on the future rules for Gibraltar. The provisions of the Schengen Agreement will apply to the British exclave in the future. This means that border crossings are still possible without passport control. Without the agreement, the border between Gibraltar and Spain would have become a “hard border” between Great Britain and the EU from Friday.