Lorries at Dover

27 March 2018
What was claimed

2% or 3% of lorries going through Dover aren’t going to the EU.

Our verdict

We haven’t seen the evidence to confirm this. We were told the figures came from the Port of Dover authorities, who have previously given similar figures to parliamentary committees. They have so far been unable to confirm the figures, so we’ve asked for more information.

“There are other lorries, as you will know better than I do, that are not going to the EU. In fact I think it is 2% or 3% of those coming through Dover and they take a lot longer [to be checked]. And that is the reality, if you don’t have a Customs Union there will be queues.”

Keir Starmer MP, 15 March 2018

Keir Starmer told us that he was briefed on these figures on a visit to the Port of Dover. The Port of Dover told us it was unable to verify the figure.

The Port of Dover has provided, or been cited as the source of, similar numbers in the past. In October last year it told a committee of MPs: “Currently, just 1% of our freight vehicle traffic is non-EU”, and the Port’s Chairman told another committee that “between 1% and 2%” of freight trucks arriving at Dover are non-EU. A think tank also cited the Port authorities as its source when stating that “lorry-loads of goods entering Dover from outside the EU” make up “around 3% of the total”.

These figures seem to all refer to lorries entering the UK at Dover, while Keir Starmer seems to be referring to lorries exiting the UK. We’ve not found any published statistics which look at lorries entering or leaving Dover broken down by whether or not an EU country was their origin or destination.

We’ve asked the Port of Dover for more information about the figures attributed to it.

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Processing lorries from the rest of the EU

The Port of Dover says EU lorries are processed in around two minutes, whereas it takes around 20 minutes to clear non-EU lorries. Other evidence given to a committee of MPs suggests it can sometimes take longer for non-EU lorries.

The Institute for Government told us that a lorry from a non-EU country would still have to undergo some customs checks at Dover, even if it had passed through another EU country first. This is because even if the lorry enters the EU customs union before arriving in the UK, it won’t undergo full customs checks until it reaches its final destination, under EU regulations.

Most EU lorries don’t undergo customs checks when they arrive in the UK, as we’re part of the customs union. When the UK leaves the EU, the government has said it is “clear” we are also leaving the customs union.

The Port of Dover suggested to MPs that, after Brexit “All goods will have to be checked somewhere”. What eventually happens will depend on the final deal agreed between the UK and the rest of the EU.

What might new customs checks look like?

The Port of Dover says that it has no additional space to carry out an increased number of checks. It adds that, in order to avoid long queues at the Port after Brexit, checks will have to be conducted away from the Port.

The Institute for Government says that what customs checks look like after Brexit is still uncertain and dependent on the on the final outcome of any deal negotiated between the UK and the rest of the EU.  

It notes that “To scale [existing customs clearance] organisations up to the point where they have the capacity to manage 100% of trade would require new systems, staff and infrastructure.”

The government has said that it doesn’t want a hard border at the port that requires every lorry to be stopped.

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