Brexit – UK risks becoming ‘a disaster area with rocket boosters on’ says logistics industry

#Brexit special section Downing Street Economy

The UK’s logistics industry has criticised the government’s lack of border planning for Brexit, saying the UK is “sleepwalking into a disaster” when the transition period ends on December 31.

Eight logistics organisations have written to Michael Gove to raise their concerns about the lack of customs agents, IT systems and physical infrastructure being built to protect essential supply chains which could also be impacted by a potential second wave of coronavirus.

A leaked document reveals government ministers are “asking hauliers and other industry groups for help to avoid chaos at the border” on January 1, 2021 with “critical gaps” in the UK’s preparations – some of which are “unmanageable” according to the memo, reports Bloomberg.

‘A disaster area with rocket boosters on’

The Road Haulage Association’s (RHA) Rod McKenzie told BBC News: “It is a real case of the government sleepwalking to a disaster with the border preparations that we have, whether it is a deal or no-deal Brexit at the end of December.”

McKenzie said the supply chain for the UK could be disrupted and criticised the “lack of government focus and action on this,” adding: “When we are trying to emerge from the crisis of Covid, if we then plunge straight into a Brexit-related crisis, that will be a really difficult moment and we need real pace.

“The difference here is between a disaster area and a disaster area with rocket boosters on.”

The leaked government memo, circulated by the Cabinet Office’s Border and Protocol Delivery Group lists 13 key risks that include a lack of contingency planning should things go wrong, inadequate preparation time for the changes, and late development of IT systems.

“The fact that the whole system, the whole flow of our trade through the border, is based on the functioning of some IT systems that are yet to be built is a huge risk,” said the chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, Shane Brennan. His group represents specialist companies transporting frozen and chilled goods, and Brennan added: “My biggest worry is that there isn’t a proper awareness out there in the industry about how precarious things are.”

‘The latest example of Tory incompetence’

Labour have called for the government to “urgently come forward with a plan to put workable solutions in place”, and Rachel Reeves, shadow minister for the Cabinet Office said: “This is the latest example of Tory incompetence and raises real concerns about the risk of border chaos in four months time.”

Reeves added: “Four years on from the referendum and there is still an absence of the details and solutions which many firms need.”

Downing Street said “extensive preparations” for the end of the transition period have been made. These include the government giving itself the power to set up and build temporary lorry parks around the country, without the need for local approval.

The logistics organisations have requested an “urgent roundtable meeting” with Gove, chancellor Rishi Sunak and transport secretary Grant Shapps, with the latter saying he has conducted regular meetings with the RHA.

Deal or no deal, the end of the transition period will cause major changes for British businesses who will be required to complete customs declarations for goods being exported and imported.

Bloomberg states that up to 10,000 trucks pass through UK ports every day, delivering everything from medicines and food to vital parts and equipment for industry and agriculture – the British Retail Consortium calculates around 80% of food imported by UK supermarkets arrives from the EU.

Trucks arriving at ports without the proper paperwork and customs declarations could be turned away or delayed, having a serious knock-on effect for other transporters, negatively impacting vital supply lines.

‘Brexit is a repatriation of mind-numbing boredom’

Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole told today’s (September 4) BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “One of the great ironies of this whole process is that a big part of the attraction of Brexit was, ‘let’s get rid of all this red-tape.’

“And what do you do? You repatriate all the red tape and you water it and it grows monstrously.

“It takes the romance out of Brexit when you start talking about, ‘well what kind of pallets can goods go on that are acceptable?’

“This stuff is stuff that none of us should have to thinking about,” said O’Toole, adding he has “great sympathy for politicians and bureaucrats not wanting to have to think about it”.

“But,” O’Toole continued, “this is what Brexit is – a repatriation of mind-numbing boredom.”

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