Friday 27 November 2020

Export IT system still untested as clock ticks on Brexit negotiations

The Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS) system that will allow British companies to export goods to the European Union by truck is still untested, but will have to be functional when the UK completes its split from the EU on 1 January
next year.

Currently, although no longer an EU member, the UK remains part of single market and customs union and can export goods without a customs declaration, but this arrangement expires at the end of the year and the British government has rejected an offered extension.

UK export trucks will only be allowed to access ports such as Dover if cargoes are cleared electronically in advance through the GVMS. But the GVMS IT project is still in development and remains untested, according to sources. It will have to be capable of handling millions of truck and trailer movements a year.

Tim Reardon, head of EU exit at the Port of Dover, told news agency Bloomberg: “There is much work still to do in order to define the physical processes and associated data flow for lorries moving between the UK and France.”

A statement from the Cabinet Office said: “We are continuing to develop our systems in preparation for the end of the transition period and the introduction of new border controls.”

HMRC said: “We are regularly engaging with industry as plans develop, in particular with regard to a new IT system that will facilitate movement at the border.”

In mid-June, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) had welcomed details of what the government was calling its ‘pragmatic and flexible’ approach to border controls following the end of the Brexit transition period. It had been suggested that a ‘light touch’ approach would be taken to incoming EU goods for the first six months, as opposed to full checks, regardless of whether or not a deal is agreed.

“Thank goodness they’ve listened to us,” said RHA chief executive Richard Burnett.

“We wrote to [Cabinet Office minister] Michael Gove at the beginning of the Covid crisis in March, saying that there needed to be a delay as businesses simply wouldn’t be ready. We stressed that there needed to be an implementation period for transition and I guess that’s exactly what this is going to be.”

However, the association warned it was vital that the EU took the same approach.

”At the moment our sense is that they’re stonewalling,” Burnett continued.

“They’re playing the same tactics as before and that means that we’ll have to prepare for a no-deal free trade agreement.

“We’ll also have to revisit plans such as Operation Brock to park trucks up in Kent, just in case we have to adhere to a complete customs process on the other side.

“The six-month relaxation, as we see it at the moment, will provide more time for businesses to prepare. The past few months have clearly shown that we have been able to maintain imports but the big issue is preparing UK businesses to be able to export.”

Elsewhere, with the clock ticking on UK-EU negotiations, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) warned that the government needed to allow time for the logistics sector to adapt to any new arrangements.

“We are not asking for the talks to be prolonged, but for sufficient time to be allowed for those required to undertake new business processes to get ready to do so,” said FTA policy director Elizabeth de Jong.

“It looks more and more likely that consensus will not be reached between the two sides until the eleventh hour, with the UK’s transition period for leaving the EU ending on 31 December 2020.

“Therefore, there will simply not be enough time to put in place all the necessary systems and processes to help trade continue to run smoothly. This will be compounded by the fact that Christmas is traditionally our sector’s busiest time of year and there will be little time available for the necessary changes to be made.”

FTA had earlier called for an implementation period for whatever agreement was reached, to allow the industry to adapt to new trading practices – including so that consideration could be given to how the Northern Ireland Protocol could be implemented in order to protect the province’s trading relationships. This followed Stormont’s vote in favour of calling for an extension to the Brexit transition period,

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