The industry has hit back at the government’s warning that there will be queues 7,000-trucks-long blocking Kent unless it gets its paperwork in order by the end of the transition period, accusing it of avoiding responsibility for its own mismanagement.

Cabinet office minister Michael Gove said in a “reasonable worst-case scenario”, between 30% and 60% of laden HGVs would arrive at the border in January with the correct paperwork.

This would mean they would be turned back by the French authorities, clogging the Dover to Calais crossing.

If that was the case, then short-strait crossings could be reduced by up to 80% and lead to 7,000 HGVs in Kent.

His statement was met with incredulity by the RHA, which said it was “extremely sceptical” about the government’s readiness and that it had been telling the government for years there was a risk of chaos

“Mr Gove stresses that it’s essential that traders act now to get ready for the new formalities,” said Richard Burnett, RHA chief executive. “We know for a fact that they are only too keen to be ready but how on earth can they prepare when there is still no clarity as to what they need to do?

“Traders need 50,000 more customs intermediaries to handle the mountain of new paperwork after transition but government support to recruit and train those extra people is woefully inadequate, particularly as firms are trying to recover from Covid-19.”

Logistics UK said it was incumbent on the government to provide businesses with details of how the smart freight and GVMS systems will work to allow adequate training and testing.

“With so much still to do, it is vital that all parties work together to keep the flow of trade moving smoothly between the UK and EU,” said Elizabeth de Jong, Logistics UK policy director.

The Unite union said Gove’s speech provided no reassurance to HGV drivers who stand to be impacted by potential trade chaos.

Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “Mr Gove appeared to be warning cross-border traders and hauliers that it would be their fault if the scenarios contained within the government’s Brexit document, including queues of up to 7,000 lorries in Kent, come to fruition.

“The fact that there will be a de-facto internal border in Kent for lorry drivers, enforced by the police, is another sign that the government is planning to avoid responsibility for its own mismanagement.

“It is outrageous that drivers, who are not required to prepare customs documentation, will be liable for fines because their employers got the paperwork wrong or the government’s preparations are full of holes.”

Jones added: “As a matter of urgency, the government must provide a detailed update on how far along its IT customs systems are, including identifying which private contractors are involved with designing them, publish the specific locations of the lorry parks and properly engage on this issue with unions, industry, local government and communities.”

Rachel Reeves, shadow minister for the cabinet office, said: “Today’s warnings are based on a reasonable worst-case scenario, but given that we have a reasonable worst-case government, we have to assume that these scenarios could play out quite soon.”