No-deal lorry mayhem at Dover and Calais? 'C'est la bullsh**' replies French ports chief

The head of the French channel ports has dismissed warnings of Brexit chaos on the Dover-Calais trade route as irresponsible scare-mongering by political agitators.

"The British authorities have been doing a great deal to prepare. People say they are asleep but I can assure you that they are highly professional and they are ready," said Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president of Port Boulogne Calais. 

"There are certain individuals in the UK who are whipping up this catastrophism for their own reasons. This has provoked a lot of concern but basically ‘c’est la bullsh**’. Nothing is going to happen the day after Brexit," he told The Telegraph.

"Britain will be a third country, that's all, and there is no reason why this should lead to any problems. If both sides do their homework traffic will be completely fluid," he said. 

Mr Puissesseau, an anglophile and horse-race afficionado, said alarmist stories of thirteen-mile lorry jams across Kent are based on twisted assumptions by people who do not know what they are talking about, or in some cases the result of distortion by particular interests with an axe to grind. 

However, he acknowledged that a no-deal Brexit in March would have been a hair-raising experience. "That would have been a huge problem because nobody believed it was going to happen and they were all dragging their feet. But we have seven more months and this time they are getting ready," he said.

The comment may raise eyebrows in the Brexit camp. Dominic Cummings, Downing Street’s political enforcer, has accused hard-core Remainers in the May cabinet of sabotaging efforts to prepare for a hard rupture if necessary. The alleged intention was to force acceptance of the Withdrawal Agreement by raising the political cost of a no-deal to prohibitive levels.

But the European side was not ready either. Brussels knew that the British government had no intention of walking away - a point made clear by Martin Selmayr, head of the European Commission’s Task Force 50, in a Panorama documentary - so preparations ranged from dilatory to non-existent in most countries. This too is now changing. 

"I have just received a delegation of Polish hauliers - and they are the most important in Europe - and I can tell you that they are perfectly up to speed on everything that has to be done," said Mr Puissesseau.

He insisted that the extra steps for freight transport in a WTO-Brexit are not as complicated as critics claim.  "Look, if you want to travel as a passenger to the UK you already need a passport. That's completely normal. Travellers do this all the time. This is what will happen with customs declarations,” he said.

Roughly 30% of the lorries from Dover to Calais currently travel empty (a sign of serious imbalances in the UK’s bilateral trade relationship with the EU).  “They will go straight to the green line and won’t need any clearance. Another 60% of them do not carry material that needs to be checked,” he said.

“Every now and then we will have to stop a haulier at Calais, but not many. If we find some with the wrong paperwork in the first days: we'll tell them you are bad boys, don't do it again,” he said.

The Calais authorities have good reason to play down any concerns. There are signs that alarmist stories over Channel chaos is diverting slivers of the port’s £120bn annual trade to container shipping from Antwerp and Zeebrugge in Belgium, and the Humber ports in the UK. These routes have a lower carbon footprint and may make more sense for some destinations than the congested land corridor whatever happens over Brexit.  

Data from HMRC shows that only 70,000 out of a total 240,000 British companies that currently export to the EU have applied for a European economic operator registration and identification number (EORI), which will be needed immediately after a no-deal.