The transport industry’s trade associations have welcomed news that provisional terms have been agreed for a Brexit transition deal – but have warned that, with just under a year remaining until the UK departs the EU, there is much more work to be done by government to provide certainty to the sector.
On 29 March – exactly a year prior to the planned withdrawal date – the Freight Transport Association (FTA) urged the government to speed up negotiations surrounding trading arrangements, or risk damaging the supply chain.
“Twelve months is a very short time in business terms,” said Pauline Bastidon, head of European policy at FTA.
“With such a focused timescale, it is unrealistic to expect logistics companies and supply chain managers to wait until the eleventh hour to learn what their new operational arrangements will be and change everything at the last minute…
“Arrangements for customs, transport or standards are still unclear, and no solutions to manage borders so that disruptions may be avoided have been agreed yet. Logistics companies and supply chain managers also need urgent clarity on what the UK’s future immigration policy will look like.”
The political confirmation of a transition period would come as “a welcome relief” to operators, Bastidon said, but warned that it needed to be set in stone sooner rather than later.
“We also need to ensure that industry is provided with sufficient details early enough to be able to adapt to new arrangements in time. A 21-month transition period is short, and we should not become complacent: urgent clarification and solutions are needed now, and not at the 11th hour, to ensure that we do not face another cliff edge in January 2021.”
She continued: “Currently, logistics operates relatively seamlessly, with minimal customs checks and no need for lengthy inspections at the borders that can delay lead times significantly…
“We still do not know on which basis and how many trucks will be able to cross the borders. In the absence of a liberalised agreement for road transport, industry will have to rely on a very limited and constraining system of permits which would cover less than three per cent of the needs, woefully under what will be required…
“Urgent clarification is needed on the location of potential checks on goods, on practical customs issues – such as whether the UK will sign up to the Common Transit Convention and what the Customs classification system to be used on the UK side will be, the status of vital European logistics workers following Brexit and more.”
Meanwhile, the Road Transport Association (RHA) also welcomed the clarity that the terms agreed in principal for the transition period would bring.
“This is a positive step but there is a long road ahead,” said the association.
“We’re still no closer to understanding what customs systems we’ll have in place once the UK leaves the EU. It’s crucial to the economy that we have customs formalities that allow hauliers to continue moving goods freely and efficiently between the UK and EU.”
The RHA added that it remained sceptical of government claims that there would be no delays for lorries passing through customs at Dover after Brexit.
Responding to an appearance by the transport secretary Chris Grayling on the BBC’s Question Time programme in which he vowed to “maintain a free-flowing border at Dover” and “not impose checks in the port”, RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “This was a great opportunity for the transport secretary to explain how the government will ensure there’ll be no delays at our ports, but he patently failed to do so.
“All we heard was a vague reassurance that they wouldn’t impose a system that would hold hauliers up, but didn’t say how they’d keep the borders free-flowing.”
Burnett cited a study by Imperial College London which suggests that a two-minute check on each lorry at the port could result in 30-mile tailbacks, which he said painted “a grim picture” of “yet more congestion misery for people in Kent”.