Despite the fact that London and Brussels reached a trade agreement to limit the fallout from Brexit, the flow of people and goods across the canal will change significantly on 1 January, when Britain’s departure from the EU is complete.
The UK leaves the EU’s internal market and customs union at 23:00 (2300 GMT) on 31 December, which is midnight in Brussels.
When the free movement of goods and people across Britain’s borders with its neighbors ceases, AFP looks at how travel and trade with France will be affected.
About 60,000 passengers and 12,000 trucks cross the canal between Britain and France every day.
From 1 January, British citizens arriving in France via the canal tunnel or ferry must produce a passport which will be stamped. They can stay in the EU for 90 days for a 180-day period, after which they need a visa.
The potential for travel chaos in the event of border delays was brought home to travelers on both sides ahead of Christmas, as thousands of trucks remained blocked on roads leading to Dover after France temporarily closed the border due to fears of coronavirus.
From about 20 seconds per person currently in the British port of Dover – the main stopover for crossings to the continent – travelers can be delayed by up to one minute on average after January 1, officials estimate.
Britons may also be subject to immigration controls on arrival in France, but French officials say they believe Britain is a safe third-party country and will strive to keep traffic as smooth as possible.
French ports are also keen to keep things moving, given that British travelers and carriers can move their customs to Belgium or the Netherlands if they encounter long delays in France.
“Smart” customs controls
When the UK also leaves the EU Customs Union, exporters and importers on both sides of the border must declare their goods to French customs online before their supplies leave the factory.
France has developed a new high-tech “smart border”, designed to keep goods running smoothly along the world’s busiest route.
Departing lorries UK must provide customs officials with customs documents containing a barcode, which the agents scan and forward, together with the lorry’s registration number, to officials on the other side of the canal.
The barcode allows the French authorities to identify the contents of the truck and to quickly determine, before the driver arrives in France, whether the vehicle must be inspected on arrival.
Those transporting animal products or plants that require EU health checks will be directed upon arrival at veterinary services.
The rest will be waved through, provided that the forms filled in by the online exporter are in order.
About 230 veterinary staff will be veterinary products, animal feed and plants in the ports of Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne-sur-Mer.
In addition to checking the carrier’s documents against the cargo, inspectors can also perform health checks on a sample of the product.
French authorities estimate that 10-12 percent of the trucks arriving in northern French ports will be subject to controls to prevent the spread of plant diseases.
Trucks transporting animal products such as lamb from EU member Ireland across the so-called British Land Bridge will be exempted from inspections.
Several million infrastructure
France has spent around € 40 million ($ 54 million) and hired 700 extra customs, immigration and veterinary staff to prepare for the return of a border with Britain.
Truck drivers whose deliveries have incomplete paperwork or are subject to lengthy inspections will be ordered to park at one of the 6,000 new sites built to avoid congestion in and around France’s canal ports.
On the British side, the government has pledged £ 200 million (€ 222 million, $ 271 million) to help ports develop post-Brexit infrastructure.
It is also building large truck parks in the south-east of England. But it refused to hand out the 33 million pounds that the port of Dover sought to double the number of French passport control booths.
Dover Port Director Doug Bannister has warned of “friction and delays” in the port.
Role on December 31st
Trucks loaded in the country of departure before 2259 GMT on 31 December will not be subject to the new controls, even if they cross the border after midnight.
Many British importers stored in December to avoid having their shipments held up at the border in January.
As a result, the French authorities expect January to be relatively calm.
Brexit will become a reality on Thursday when Britain leaves Europe’s customs union and internal market and ends almost half a century of often turbulent ties with its closest neighbors. © Graphic Studio