Brexit Border IT Outages Delay Import of Perishable Items to UK by Up to 20 Hours

Lorries carrying perishable goods such as meat, cheese, and cut flowers from the EU are experiencing delays of up to 20 hours at the UK’s busiest Brexit border post due to failures in government IT systems.

These delays have led to significant disruptions, reducing the shelf life of products and prompting retailers to reject some orders.

Businesses have described the new border control checks, introduced as part of the post-Brexit import regime, as a “disaster.” The government’s Automatic Licence Verification System (ALVS) has experienced multiple outages since the checks were implemented at the beginning of this month, resulting in lengthy hold-ups at border posts.

The worst disruption occurred last weekend, with dozens of lorries being held at the Sevington post in Ashford, Kent, for periods ranging from eight to 20 hours due to a system failure that forced manual document checks. An Italian goods importer reported that 18 out of 23 lorries were delayed, with some waiting between nine and 20 hours.

A company manager, who wished to remain anonymous, stated, “We were expecting maximum hold-ups of four hours, and if they weren’t checked by then, they would be released. This is a lot longer.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed that a technical issue affected its digital services, including the ALVS, over the weekend. In response, importers had to manually submit documents for verification. Despite Defra’s claim of no significant delays, many businesses reported severe disruptions and a lack of communication.

The managing director of a Polish transport company described the weekend as a “disaster,” with many customers expressing frustration over the delays. Mariusz, a driver held at Sevington for over eight hours, reported that around 25 other lorries were similarly stuck, some for up to 15 hours, with little information on their release times.

Customs agents and importers also reported difficulties reaching Defra officials by phone during the disruptions. One company, which sends 70 lorries to the UK each week, saw 40 vehicles delayed at Sevington, leading to some customers rejecting deliveries of fresh products from Poland and eastern Europe.

Nigel Jenney, chief executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium, highlighted the recurring issues with government IT systems since the new checks began, noting the significant costs and disruptions to the sector. “There’s been several incidents like this in the last two weeks, and several much more minor issues. This is causing not just huge disruption, but it’s a huge cost for the sector,” he said.

A Defra spokesperson acknowledged the power outage that affected import processing systems, stating, “For the majority of vehicles at the border there were no significant delays, but we immediately activated contingency arrangements for affected vehicles, working alongside HMRC and Border Force. We are working at pace to resolve the issue and expect that systems will be returning to normal functioning soon. Since the introduction of checks, our teams have been working closely with traders to ensure checks are completed efficiently and swiftly.”

The ongoing IT issues at Brexit border posts underscore the challenges businesses face in navigating new import regulations, highlighting the need for robust and reliable systems to support seamless trade.

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Brexit Border IT Outages Delay Import of Perishable Items to UK by Up to 20 Hours