Brexit border system outage puts perishable goods transport in peril

A power outage affecting one of the IT systems used to process imports to the UK has caused delays to perishable goods crossing the border, which businesses have described as a "disaster."

At the UK's busiest crossing to continental Europe, dozens of lorries were being held at the government's control post serving Dover and the Channel tunnel for up to 20 hours after the IT system went offline on Saturday.

According to a report from The Guardian, trucks transporting meat and cheese saw the shelf-life of their goods slashed such that retailers began to reject some orders.

The UK began imposing physical checks at the border with the EU for some goods after Brexit came into effect, and new border controls were introduced in April.

The glitches have affected the agriculture department's Automatic Licence Verification System (ALVS).

In a statement, the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs said: "A power outage over the weekend affected one of the systems required to process imports. For the majority of vehicles at the border there were no significant delays, but we immediately activated contingency arrangements for affected vehicles, working alongside His Majesty's Customs & Revenue 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 spokesperson told us.

The ALVS is designed to link the tax collector's system called the Customs Declaration Service - which recently replaced the ageing Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system - to Defra's Import of products, animals, food and feed system (IPAFFS). Hooking up the two allows port health authorities and Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA) to communicate the results of biosecurity and food safety checks to HMRC.

The Guardian quoted several haulage companies and drivers held up by the outage. One company importing Italian goods said that 18 of the 23 lorries that came through Dover transferred to Sevington, near Ashford, to wait up to 20 hours before being released.

IT troubles have dogged post-Brexit border arrangements before.

In April 2022, HMRC's goods vehicle movement service (GVMS), meant to help manage customs tariffs after the UK left the European Union, was knocked offline for several days, causing a 23 mile (37 km) stretch of the multilane M20 highway to remain closed to accommodate queuing freight.

GVMS was released in stages in December 2020 and June 2021. In November 2020, the system for the post-Brexit management of goods crossing the EU border was still in development, and the department planned for the first release to be a "minimum viable product," according to a report from spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO). ®

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