Two trucks take the direction of the Channel Tunnel shuttles yesterday in Coquelles. Goods flowed smoothly across the Channel between Britain and France yesterday, the first working day since the completion of Brexit last week. – AFP

CALAIS: Goods flowed smoothly across the Channel between Britain and France yesterday, the first working day since the completion of Brexit last week. Nearly 3,000 trucks have passed through the Channel Tunnel from France to Britain since the UK left the EU customs union and single market at midnight on December 31, in the final act of its divorce from the EU.

“Everything is going very well,” a spokesman for Getlink, the operator of the tunnel, which is used both by passenger and freight trains, said. In the port of Calais, staging post for ferry crossings to the English port of Dover, there were also “no queues and no congestion” yesterday, the port’s deputy director Benoit Rochet said.

With just 21 ferries scheduled to sail for England yesterday, compared with over 30 on a normal day, “traffic is very slow,” he said. Eleven months after Brexit, the free movement of people and goods between Britain and its EU neighbors came to an abrupt end on December 31 when an 11-month transitional period expired.

Under a new “smart border” technology devised by France to keep goods moving smoothly post-Brexit, companies on either side of the Channel are required to fill out customs forms online before shipping their goods. Only two trucks arriving at the tunnel in Calais were prevented from boarding shuttles to Britain because the drivers did not have the proper shipping documents, Getlink said yesterday.

The drivers were rerouted to a new customs building to complete their paperwork, the spokesman said. Under the new rules, trucks arriving in Calais or Dover must present shipping documents containing a barcode, which is scanned and forwarded to customs officials on the other side of the world’s busiest shipping route.

Once this is done the trucks can either be waved through with a green light or subjected to extra checks if given an orange one. Many British importers had stocked up on goods from the Continent in December to avoid their consignments getting held up by border controls after January 1. Around 60,000 passengers and 12,000 trucks cross the Channel between Britain and France each day. French officials expect trade flows to progressively return to normal over the course of the month.

‘Success’ for French ports
The potential for chaos was brought home to traders and travellers on either side of the Channel in the run-up to Christmas, when thousands of trucks remained blocked on roads leading to Dover after France temporarily closed the border over coronavirus fears. Yesterday morning, however, traffic was smooth on the French side of the frontier.

“I think that, as far as French ports are concerned, Brexit has been rather a success,” the head of public order for the northern Hauts-de-France region, Michel Lalande, told France Bleu local radio. France has spent around 40 million euros ($54 million) and hired 700 extra customs, immigration and veterinary staff to prepare for the return of a border with Britain. – AFP