With three weeks to go until crunch Brexit talks in Brussels, and the Conservative Government accused of spending more time negotiating with itself than the EU, the freight industry warned that Britain was heading towards a road block scenario – quite literally.
Theresa May’s disunited Brexit team were accused of “playing chicken with crucial parts of the British economy.”
The UK’s leading logistics trade body warned that it had lost confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver a ‘frictionless’ Brexit – essential for the UK economy.
“Manufacturers and retailers are losing faith and fear that post-Brexit Britain is at real risk of becoming nothing more than a series of road blocks at our ports and airports,” warned James Hookham, Deputy Chief Executive of the Freight Transport Association (FTA).
“What is really making our members angry is that these real, legitimate concerns are simply being dismissed by some members of the Government on the basis that it will not be in the EU’s interests to impose them.
“This is a reckless attitude to take and is playing chicken with crucial parts of the British economy and the livelihoods of the seven million Britons in the industry.
“All the evidence is that the other EU member states are recruiting hordes of border officials to enforce their rule book, regardless of the cost to their businesses and consumers.”
The dire warning from the haulage industry echoes the aviation sector’s warning of flight chaos with the prospect of leaving the Single Market without Europe-wide operating agreements.
All of which means British industries, jobs and the economy are at the mercy of decisions that need to be made now to ensure Britain’s supply chain.
“Over the past year, we have continued to push the Government on what needs to be agreed to ‘Keep Britain Trading’ after Brexit. Yet with less than ten months to go until the country is set to leave the EU, we have nothing agreed and there is every prospect of another flunked summit at the end of this month,” warned Mr Hookham.
“With “Armageddon” scenarios apparently being developed by Whitehall to cope with a No Deal Brexit next March even the Government seems to think it may be all over!”
Last week it was revealed that the M20 could be turned into a giant lorry park if there is no agreement to replace the current Customs Union with the EU.
With customs delayed expected following Britain’s exit from the European Union, ministers are putting together contingency plans for delays and stoppages of cargo into and from the continent.
Operation Stack, which has been used dozens of time when disruption has hit Channel ports, could become a mainstay solution in the South East of England, with a no-deal likely to grind traffic to a halt.
Confirming the move, Transport Minister Baroness Liz Sugg said: “The Department has now agreed with Highways England that this arrangement should take the form of a contraflow system which would see lorries for the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel held on the coast-bound carriageway between junctions 8-9 of the M20, while other traffic will use a contraflow to continue their journey on the other side of the motorway.
“Highways England are starting the preparatory works for the scheme now and it will be available from early 2019.”
Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said the Government’s approach to contingency planning for lorries on the economically vital M20 link to the Port of Dover has been “incompetent and disastrous”.
His colleague Stephen Doughty, of the People’s Vote campaign, said: “We all remember Operation Stack and the traffic chaos that ensued, with 30-mile long queues of trucks and lorries stuck on motorways for days at a time.
“Brexit threatens to make this a daily reality.
“The Government is beginning contingency planning for traffic delays due to customs hold-ups, which means they are fully aware of the logistical nightmare they are going to cause through their ludicrous decision to leave the customs union.”
“All these potential barriers were thrown up by the Government’s decision to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market,” added Mr Hookham.
“We keep getting told that all food and agricultural exports to the Continent and Ireland will be checked at EU ports – but there is nowhere to check them, and the system to check them does not exist,” “We still don’t know if we will be able to employ the 43,000 truck drivers in the UK that are nationals from another member state – that’s 13% of our driver workforce! There is no clarification on whether UK drivers’ qualifications are to be recognised, so they could well be barred from driving their own vehicles on the Continent.
“But the real show stopper is that, under European law, unless an agreement is reached, there will only be 103 international haulage Permits to cover the 300,000 journeys made by British trucks to Europe each year. The logistics industry is being asked to decide who would get a Permit to Drive if there are not enough to go around – in effect, being asked to destroy the businesses of its international haulage members.”