Queues at Dover reached 20 miles today with long traffic jams in Calais through the night as thousands of lorries – many full of Christmas gifts and food – tried to cross the Channel amid chaos at Britain’s container ports.
Extraordinary photographs taken from above the M20 in Kent showed how vehicles were bumper-to-bumper amid claims businesses are stockpiling in case of a No Deal Brexit at the end of the month.
And across the water in France, in Calais trucks lined dual carriageways for miles as they tried to get a ferry to Dover or the Channel Tunnel to Folkestone ahead of the busiest shopping week of the year.
Retailers say items they ordered in August for Christmas have still not arrived in Britain because of shipping chaos caused by Covid-19 in China and problems unloading in the UK seeing containers dumped in Zeebrugge, Belgium.
UK firms are haemorrhaging £1million or more because shipments have been delayed and quadrupled in price with the cost of moving a container from Qingdao, China, to the UK now at £7,500 per load – up from £2,000.
Lorries queue for The Port of Dover along the A20 in Kent as the Dover TAP (Traffic Access Protocol) is implemented today
Lorries queue to enter The Port of Dover today as the clock ticks down on the chance for the UK to strike a Brexit trade deal
Lorries wait outside The Port of Dover along the A20 in Kent amid high volumes of freight traffic this morning
Lorries queue at Dover today as the UK tries to strike a deal before the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31
Lorries queue to enter The Port of Dover in Kent today as the clock ticks down on the chance for the UK to strike a Brexit deal
Vehicles are bumper-to-bumper at Dover today amid claims businesses are stockpiling in case of a No Deal Brexit
Lorries queue to enter The Port of Dover in Kent this morning as the deadline to strike a Brexit trade deal draws ever nearer
Lorries queue for The Port of Dover along the A20 in Kent today as the Dover TAP (Traffic Access Protocol) is implemented
Lorries wait to board their ferries as a P&O ferry and a DFDS ferry are docked at the port of Dover in Kent this afternoon
Freight lorries are seen aboard a docking DFDS ferry at the Port of Dover in Kent this afternoon
Lorries disembark while others wait to board as a P&O ferry arrives at the Port of Dover in Kent this afternoon
Containers from one of the world’s largest cargo ships, the Ever Gifted, were seen being unloaded at Felixstowe amid chaos caused by a perfect storm of backlogs at UK container ports, pre-Brexit stockpiling and the pandemic.
Shoppers are being badly hit in the pocket as a result, with the cost of some of the most-wanted Christmas gifts increasing by up to £40 each in the past week.
Three key issues causing delays at British ports
Problems at ports are being caused by a series of problems occurring at once which are not all unique to the UK. Industry insiders say there are three key issues behind the chaos:
COVID – shipping container shortage
The system for shipping goods around the world stopped working properly when economies shut down and reopened at different times as they dealt with Covid.
This led to shipping firms falling behind when it came to retrieving empty containers from European ports and taking them back to factories in Asia.
The container shortage is being exacerbated by a lack of staff across the global supply chain – including sailors, hauliers and warehouse workers – due to people falling ill or having to quarantine.
The problems caused by Covid have been compounded by a surge in demand caused by:
BREXIT – customs and stockpiling
If the UK leaves the EU with no deal, then at the end of the transition period tariffs will be applied to imported goods according to World Trade Organisation rules.
Companies are therefore stockpiling goods out of fear of having to pay tariffs, or because they are concerned that new customs procedures after Brexit will delay imports.
There is always a spike in demand for goods around Christmas, which is exacerbating problems.
The British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA), the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) are calling on the Government to intervene at Felixstowe and Southampton and ‘save the festive season’ by getting more cargo into the UK.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: ‘After a tremendously challenging 2020, many firms’ cashflows are under severe pressure, and so businesses are in no position to absorb these additional shipping costs.
‘As a result, consumers will pay the final price. Christmas orders could be delayed, and retailers might be left with no option but to increase product prices. These issues must be addressed urgently. An inquiry would provide the scrutiny needed to help get our ports flowing freely again.’
MailOnline research on the respected consumer site PriceSpy reveals that a Nintendo Switch will today cost you on average £279.85 in the shops or online – up £10 since the start of the month.
A Barbie Dreamhouse has increased in price by £40 in the same period to £280.97 while Star Wars Lego, which is in short supply this Christmas, is up £15 to £99 for a space ship set.
An electric scooter – seen by many experts as the most wanted Christmas gift – is £30 up to £139.99 on average because so many have been held up at ports in China, Europe and Britain due to a global shipping crisis.
The ongoing congestion at British ports means many Christmas toys, gifts and stocking fillers are now unlikely to make it on time with businesses hemorrhaging £1million or more because shipments have been delayed and quadrupled in price.
There were queues of up to ten miles at Dover and Calais earlier this week as retailers rushed to cross the Channel avoiding the snarled up container ports.
The huge Singapore-registered vessel, the Ever Gifted, unloaded cargo at Felixstowe on Wednesday after waiting in port for three days.
Rocketing shipping costs and a shortage of stock in the UK caused by Covid chaos in China and a log-jam at Felixstowe and Southampton container ports means that shoppers rushing to buy gifts in the week before Christmas Day are likely to pay more.
The industry bodies want an inquiry into the problems and are calling on Boris Johnson to clear containers of PPE clogging up the docks and bring back more staff off furlough to ease congestion. They also want other ports such as Liverpool, Hull, Portsmouth, Tilbury and London Gateway to pick up more of the slack.
Freight lorries queue at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel freight terminal at Folkestone in Kent this morning
Lorries queue on the slip road leaving the M20 and joining a route to the Channel Tunnel freight terminal at Folkestone today
Freight lorries queue at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel freight terminal in Folkestone on the south coast this morning
Freight lorries queue on the slip road leaving the M20 and joining the route to the freight terminal in Folkestone today
Retailers have said that toys, games, puzzles and dolls ordered from China in August and September have still not arrived after delays in Asia and problems unloading in Britain leading to many containers being dumped in Zeebrugge, Belgium.
Brexit: Just a few hours left to strike a trade deal
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has warned there are ‘just a few hours’ left to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK, as the two sides stand at the ‘moment of truth’.
As talks resumed on Friday, Mr Barnier said that there is a chance of getting a deal in time for the end of the transition period on December 31, but said that the path to a breakthrough is ‘very narrow’.
His warning came after Boris Johnson told European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen that the EU must ‘significantly’ shift its stance on fishing, for an agreement, as the brinkmanship continued.
The EU set the latest deadline that an agreement must be ready by Sunday night in order to have enough time for MEPs to ratify it, while the House of Commons has been warned it may need to to hastily return from Christmas recess to vote on a deal.
‘It’s the moment of truth,’ Mr Barnier told the European Parliament in Brussels.
‘We have very little time remaining, just a few hours, to work through these negotiations in useful fashion if we want this agreement to enter into force on January 1.
‘There is a chance of getting an agreement but the path to such an agreement is very narrow.’
He said he was being ‘frank with you and open and sincere’ when he said that he was unable to say what the result will be from the ‘last home straight of negotiations’.
The Prime Minister and Ms von der Leyen took stock of negotiations in a call on Thursday evening.
The EU chief acknowledged ‘big differences’ remained between the two sides and stressed that ‘bridging them will be very challenging’.
Mr Johnson tweeted after the call to say he told Ms von der Leyen that ‘time is short and the EU position needed to change substantially’.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister warned it looked ‘very likely’ a deal would not be agreed unless the bloc shifted its stance.
Agreement was getting closer on the ‘level playing field’ to ensure neither side could unfairly compete by eroding environmental standards, workers’ rights or state subsidies, but fishing policy remained a major sticking point.
Mr Johnson warned that the UK ‘could not accept a situation’ where it was unable to control access to its waters and would have fishing quotas that ‘hugely disadvantaged its own industry’, according to a No 10 spokeswoman.
‘The EU’s position in this area was simply not reasonable and if there was to be an agreement it needed to shift significantly,’ she added.
Mr Barnier’s counterpart at No 10, Lord Frost, warned that progress ‘seems blocked’ ahead of talks resuming in Brussels.
‘The situation in our talks with the EU is very serious tonight. Progress seems blocked and time is running out,’ he tweeted on Thursday.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who has been in charge of the Government’s no-deal planning, said on Thursday that the chances of an agreement remained ‘less than 50 per cent’.
He told the Commons Brexit committee the ‘most likely outcome’ was that the transition period would end on December 31 without a deal.
The problems have led to knock-on delays at Dover, where 2,000 extra trucks per day are crossing the channel with containers because driving them in is the only way to get to the UK for Christmas.
Apple’s new £550 Airpods Max may not arrive at many homes until after Easter while the £450 Sony PS5 console is sold out at Currys PC World, Argos and on Amazon. Many kitchen gadgets such as food processors, coffee machines, kettles, toaster and utensils are delayed well into January.
Leeds-based toy designer Boxer Gifts, which manufacturers its products in China, says it will lose £1million this year because of stock delays with their Christmas order not due until December 28.
Managing director Thomas O’Brien said products they sell to retailers, including Paperchase, are stuck in Europe after failing to dock at Felixstowe.
He told the BBC: ‘Some of the ships are bypassing the UK and tipping off at European ports, but others are just slowing down because they’ve got nowhere to unload,’ he said.
‘Various games and stocking-filler toys such as Grow-a-Sloth are hugely popular, but we’ve had stock outages for months because shipments are delayed and that’s costing us sales.
‘More importantly it’s reducing availability for consumers to find fun gifts. There’s less about.’
Sheffield toy shop owner Hellen Stirling-Baker says 40 per cent of her annual turnover is tied up in a £20,000 shipment of Dinkum Dolls due in the Autumn, now not likely to be delivered until January 7.
She said: ‘I just received an order today which I placed three weeks ago, and only part [of it] has come. The rest is stuck in ports,’ she said. ‘Demand has been really high but stock levels are low’.
For more than a week Dover has been choked with 24-hour queues with 2,000 more lorries than usual crossing between Britain and Europe every day.
Emergency measures have been imposed on roads across Kent to try to manage a tidal wave of trucks now believed to be at 12,000 per day or more.
The log-jam at container ports means many hauliers are switching to using ferries and the Channel Tunnel to make their delivery targets.
Around 2,000 extra trucks have been crossing through the Channel Tunnel every day, mostly into the UK, on top of the 10,000 already crossing in an average 24-hour period.
The British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA) says Boris Johnson’s Government needs to act today.
A spokesman said: ‘We would urge the government to help at this crucial time for business, to save the festive season and alleviate blockages now ahead of the UK’s departure from the EU’.
But a spokesman for the Department for Transport (DfT) said: ‘This is not a problem unique to the UK, with ports around the globe experiencing similar container capacity issues.
‘The government is working closely with the freight industry to work through the challenges some of our ports are facing.
‘Ports are employing more staff, as well as working with hauliers to improve container collection and with shipping lines to maximise efficient utilisation of port capacity. We will do everything we can to resolve the situation as quickly as possible’.
The authorities in Kent have been forced to implement the so-called Dover TAP, short for Traffic Access Protocol, to control traffic levels and speed.
Kent County Council says this is designed to prevent port-bound traffic from affecting the local road network and the A20 through Dover town.
The system also allows for lorries to queue on the M20 near junction 11 whilst they wait being able to board at the Eurotunnel terminal.
Lorries queue near Calais in northern France this morning as chaotic scenes at ports on both sides of the Channel continue
Trucks queue on the A16 road between the Eurotunnel road access and Oye Plage in northern France this morning
Trucks queue on the A16 road near Calais in northern France this morning as Britain is set to leave the European Union
A spike in imports due to the Covid-19 pandemic, couple with the normal Christmas rise in demand for imports and stockpiling triggered by fears of a no-deal Brexit have led to bottlenecks.
The problems have brought grim warnings that many retailers and manufacturers will face shortages of stock, hitting supplies of Christmas gifts including toys.
White goods, homeware and building supplies are also reportedly being held up by the congestion, while carmaker Honda has temporarily closed its Swindon plant due to difficulty getting parts.
Desperate retailers, supermarkets and department stores are still waiting for their Christmas stock as chaos at UK ports threatens major disruption to festive deliveries.
Customs delays in processing ships at Felixstowe and a string other ports risks a shortage of consumer products – including toys – with the result some may not arrive until January.
Scooters, dolls houses, Lego and Nintendo Switch consoles are among the prices on the rise according to PriceSpy
Stocking fillers such as the Grow-a-Sloth and Liar!Liar! Pants on Fire games are sold out and out of stock because of port problems
Retailers wanting more shipments of Dinkum Dolls due in the Autumn, are now not likely to be delivered until January 7 at the earliest
Containers are unloaded from one of the biggest ships in the world, Ever Gifted, at Felixstowe in Suffolk on Wednesday
One specialist Christmas products supplier last night complained that vital festive stock was buried in a mountain of hundreds of containers.
The gifts that might NOT arrive this Christmas: Deliveries of Barbies, Scalextric and Peppa Pig toys are hit by delays after Covid supply chain issues causes chaos at Britain’s ports
Britain is facing a Christmas gift shortage with chaos at ports meaning deliveries of popular products including Barbies, Micro-Scalextric and Peppa Pig toys may not arrive before December 25.
Go-karts, scooters and Paw Patrol merchandise are among the other children’s presents held up at ports due to a global shipping crisis, retailers said today.
Gary Grant, of The Entertainer, Britain’s largest independent toy retailer, said deliveries are now three weeks behind schedule with just 15 days until Christmas Day.
Meanwhile, Derek Crookes, of the Toy Retailers Association, said: ‘There is still stock on shelves but some lines may face shortages.
‘In previous Christmases some toys have run out because they are really, really popular but this year a lot of different lines are running low and might run out entirely before new stock arrives in January.’
There are also fears that food imports could be left to rot as a result of the disruption, while companies supplying supermarkets claim the delays are adding huge costs and threaten to push up prices.
And there are concerns that factories will be forced to follow the example of car maker Honda and suspend production because of a shortage of imported parts.
The problems appear to be the result of a perfect storm caused by a combination of the impact of Covid-19 and stockpiling ahead of the Brexit deadline of December 31.
Industry leaders fear the introduction of new Customs checks in the new year will fuel the crisis without urgent action to tackle the bottlenecks.
Some retailers say that as few as one in five shipments due in September and October have arrived, which has hit supplies of scooters, Barbie dolls and other toys before Christmas.
High street chains are reporting shortages of white goods such as washing machines and fridges, while building merchants are running out of supplies, such as power tools, screws, timber and roof tiles.
At the same time, shipping companies are imposing massive ‘congestion charges’, in some cases running to hundreds of thousands of pounds, on British importers because of the delays. This is to cover the dead time ships spend in ports rather than getting back out to sea.
In a joint letter to the chairs of the Commons Transport Select Committee and the Commons International Trade Committee, they wrote that some shipping costs have more than doubled compared with last year.
One food manufacturer has suffered lost sales worth more than £1 million due to a shortage during the crucial festive period, the letter stated.
The BRC and FDF want the committees to hold an inquiry into the chaos at ports and the functioning of the shipping market.
A number of issues have caused the logjam, including a rise in imports following the end of the first coronavirus lockdown, Brexit-related stockpiling and containers filled with personal protective equipment not being collected from ports.
FDF chief operating officer Tim Rycroft added: ‘Food and drink manufacturers are extremely concerned about the delays we are witnessing at the ports.
‘Our members are incurring costs totalling tens of thousands of pounds, and in some cases hundreds of thousands.
‘It is directly impacting on the ability of businesses to build up stockpiles of products and ingredients ahead of the end of the transition period.’
Dixons Carphone revealed on Wednesday it has been affected by the congestion, with delays of up to two days for some of its goods. But the firm said it ‘can handle’ the delays and has been preparing for Brexit disruption for a long time.