Freight Associations have reacted angrily to a letter leaked last week that outlined the UK Government worst-case scenario planning for a no-deal scenario.  In it, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove, responsible for no-deal planning, highlighted that a reasonable worst-case scenario in the event of a no-deal could see 70,000 lorries backing up at UK ports and delays of two days.

In the letter, Gove went on to tell hauliers that “it is essential that traders act now and get ready for new formalities.”

Freight Associations react angrily

This apparent attempt to shift responsibility for the predicted chaos onto the freight industry was given short shrift by the sector’s leading trade associations.

Robert Keen, Director General at British International Freight Association (BIFA) said: “With just over 14 weeks to go before the end the Brexit transition period, traders and logistics partners are still waiting for so much information and clarity from government and are shocked by the lack of consistency in government policy, systems planning and procedures.”

His comments illustrate the increasing frustration across the sector about the lack of information about the possibility of a future trade deal, what it might include, the likelihood of a no-deal scenario and the contingencies it can expect the government to put in place in the event of such a scenario.

The Cabinet Office ‘Worst Case Scenario’

The Government’s own analysis has highlighted the catastrophic results that could be expected in the event that the UK Government fails to negotiate a deal with the EU before the end of October.  Negotiations ran until October 2, with no agreement so far, making the prospect of no deal look increasingly likely.

The UK Government has published a border operating model (PDF, 9.41 MB, 138 pages) which outlines the key actions that all users of the GB/EU border will need to take ahead of January 2021 and is currently constructing overflow lorry parks in Kent to absorb some of the disruption.

However, these preparations full far short of what would be required in the event of a no deal and some MPs and commentators have highlighted that many of the preparations that are underway will not be completed in time for December 31, 2020, when the transition period comes to an end.

The call for more help from government

Elizabeth de Jong, Policy Director at LogisticsUK, said, “It is incumbent on the government to ensure logistics businesses have details of and access to the UK’s own logistics systems including Smart Freight and GVMS, in good time so that adequate testing and training can be carried out.”

She said that preparations will take time and that “this needs to be factored into the planning process – leaving it to the last minute could be problematic at best.”

The lack of clarity and support from Government has been exacerbated by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. 

CBI Director General, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said, “Businesses face a hat-trick of unprecedented challenges: rebuilding from the first wave of COVID-19, dealing with the resurgence of the virus, and preparing for significant changes to the UK’s trading relationship with the EU.  More than three quarters of businesses want to see a deal that will support people’s jobs and livelihoods.  This matters for firms and communities across Europe.  For the whole continent, the pandemic has diminished firms’ ability to prepare for an abrupt interruption of restrictions on trade and movement between the UK and the EU.”

Worrying indications of blame in leaked letter

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the leaked letter, according to Freight Association leaders, is that it indicates an attempt to shift the blame for any disruption at ports onto the industry itself.  The BIFA Director General rejected this approach, saying it would not work.

Keen said, “According to the media coverage, Mr Gove says it is essential that traders act now and get ready for new formalities. BIFA says give our members all the information they need, the resources they require and systems that actually work, and they will be more than able to do what is necessary. But don’t start pointing the finger of blame in our direction when you have still to provide all of the tools to do the job.”

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