Britain could withdraw from the European Union in a little over a year’s time.
As the March 2019 (read October 19 now!) date draws closer, little has been done to allay concerns of the logistics sector – which is struggling to come to terms with imports, border controls and freedom of movement.
As the Government discusses future trading relationship with Britain’s neighbours, the deputy chief executive of the Freight Transport Association (FTA) has called on the government to make the free flow of traffic across borders a “top priority” for 2018.
Brexit impact on logistics
Although it is still far from clear, we are starting to get a better picture of what Britain’s relationship will be like with Europe when we leave the EU. This allows us to better predict the impact for hauliers.
One possibility, which politicians in the UK and Europe are both planning for, is that Britain could leave the single market in a ‘no-deal’ scenario next on 29 March 2019.
To keep trade operating smoothly between Britain and the EU in this event, transport chiefs have warned the government that they need to make crucial progress on a number of things.
James Hiikham, the FTA’s deputy chief executive said in October: “Business cannot be expected to sort it all out at the last minute. It is not just about the Government being ready.”
The FTA argues that the government needs to significantly expand their customs capabilities and provide support to EU-trading companies that will need to file customs documents for the first time.
Importing and exporting will clearly be a major concern for hauliers after Brexit date. If the UK leaves the EU’s single market then tariffs could be applicable on all of those goods.
Britain is heavily reliant on imports, but higher prices could result in fewer goods being brought to the UK from Europe. This would hurt transport businesses.
Queues at border crossings are further cause for concern. Inside the single market, people and goods can move freely over borders without having to be checked.
If Britain leaves the EU and the single market then trucks could be forced to wait at borders for a longer period while cargo is checked and approved by border agents.
The flow of traffic at major sea ports is a top concern. Transport authorities in Britain and France are keen to see a frictionless border between the frontiers of the EU. Equally however, members of the EU have a responsibility to ensure that no illegal or untaxed goods flow into the union.
The FTA and other business owners have said that 30-mile lorry queues could stretch back towards London if lorries have to be checked for the standard of their goods.
In Dover and at the Irish border, the Government is looking at innovative technology that would speed up the passage of goods. But these kinds of systems rely on complex computing infrastructure. And there is no guarantee that it will be in place before the UK leaves.
Freedom of movement
Another top concern for the haulage industry is freedom of movement for people coming in to the UK. Owing to a shortage of heavy goods drivers in the UK, a significant proportion of commercial drivers in Britain come from the EU.
British companies currently rely on about 60,000 foreign drivers to keep their fleets on the road. But if the right to free movement is withdrawn from these drivers then it could exacerbate a driver shortage problem in the industry.
Now haulage bosses are warning that post-Brexit trade is under threat from a 45,000-strong shortage of new truckers. And those are just the numbers required to fill existing vacancies.
The average age of British lorry drivers is 55 and there are not enough young learners coming through to replace this aging population.
Senior traffic commissioner Beverley Bell said in her annual report:
“This driver shortage is limiting the haulage industry’s ability to deliver high-quality services and this growing problem needs to be addressed.
“This is having an adverse impact on the British economy and it shows no signs of improving.”
She added: “I regard it as vital that action is taken by the government and industry to address this shortage before it starts to have an even greater impact on the movement of goods and people across Great Britain and beyond.”