The UK’s haulage industry has called for “urgent intervention” from the government to address what it says are enormous challenges facing critical supply chains because of Brexit.
The Road Haulage Association estimates that the volume of exports from Britain to the EU dropped by up to 68 per cent in January compared with the same month last year.
In a letter last week to Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, the RHA accused the government of failing to put enough measures in place to ease the flow of goods across the English Channel.
For example, there are only 10,000 customs agents in place — to help companies with paperwork — compared with the government’s target of 50,000.
Richard Burnett, chief executive of the RHA, said in the letter to Gove: “We have worked tirelessly to demonstrate the devastating consequences these changes are having but it is very clear that government are not doing enough to address them.” The letter was first reported by the Observer newspaper.
Senior government figures including prime minister Boris Johnson have sought to downplay the potential impact of new non-tariff barriers caused by Brexit.
But in reality exporters must now deal with a slew of fresh paperwork ranging from new customs declarations and export health checks to rules of origin and regulatory issues.
The RHA has urged the government to provide a compensation package for hauliers to address losses suffered because of the new post-Brexit bureaucratic requirements on the industry.
It said its estimate about the fall in exports came from surveys of its members. “Intelligence that we are collecting on an ongoing basis from international hauliers suggests that loads to the EU have reduced by as much as 68 per cent, which can also be evidenced by the increased number of empty trailers which are not currently considered in the statistics,” the RHA added.
The association also issued a fresh call for further relaxation of checks on the Northern Ireland border to alleviate pressure on traders and hauliers.
A government spokesperson said: “We have had intensive engagement with the road haulage industry for months. We do not recognise the figure on exports. Thanks to the hard work of hauliers and traders, disruption has so far been minimal.”
They said there were no queues at the Strait of Dover, disruption at the border had so far been minimal and freight movements were now close to normal levels, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
But Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, told the Observer that the 68 per cent figure sounded “broadly in line” with his own information. Ballantyne predicted further difficulties in the summer because new infrastructure — to deal with full import checks on goods from July 1 — would not be ready in time.