There is an 80% chance of "chaos in Kent" after the end of the UK's Brexit transition period, a haulage industry boss warned on Wednesday.
Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), predicted that the UK was under-prepared for export arrangements come 1 January, when the country fully leaves the EU's regulatory bodies.
He cited a lack of customs agents, disruption at new customs sites, and the fact that the new IT system at the border is currently incomplete.
“In terms of my gut feeling as we stand here today with 81 days to go, with the amount of work that we’ve got to undertake, (the likelihood of) chaos in Kent (is) 80/20".
The RHA boss said that businesses will still want to trade and "drive volume there" even if the UK doesn't have sufficient customs officers at the border.
“If we’re not ready then the likelihood is we will have chaos.”
Burnett then accused ministers of having a “self-belief in their own rhetoric at the moment that everything will be OK”.
“My fear at this stage is there will be significant disruption, potentially, at the year-end", he added.
Addressing MPs, he said that the UK is “a long way off” from recruiting enough customs agents to be able to deal with the predicted increase in declarations required following the end of the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.
“It can take six to 12 months just to familiarise yourself, but probably three years to really understand how the process works end to end", he said. “We’ve got 81 working days between now and the end of the year, to be able to recruit the number of agents that are required.
He said the the industry believes there is "denial", "apathy" as well as a "real sense that the government is not getting the message".
A War on Two Fronts
This warning comes as Westminster is embroiled in controversy over the border in Northern Ireland, which will remain in the EU's customs arrangement and remain effectively subject to Single Market rules.
The British government has threatened to revise its adherence to the Withdrawal Agreement, which determines the terms of the Brexit transition period, and reaffirm authority over its territory in Ireland.
However, Brussels has warned that this would lead to an end to negotiations and is adamant that its laws on state aid would be maintained in Northern Ireland.
London is stressing its sovereignty over the right to enforce its own fiscal policy, including in Northern Ireland.
Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, both the Republic and Northern Ireland must maintain "regulatory alignment" to prevent the erection of a hard border.