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Govt plans ‘secret’ customs school as BIFA calls for Brexit extension

[ May 27, 2020   //   ]

The British International Freight Association (BIFA) is calling for an extension to the Brexit transition period after its research showed that firms have been unable to train enough staff in customs procedures.

BIFA carried out the survey in response to the UK government’s insistence that it will not ask to extend the transition period. It found that most respondents believe that an extension to the transition period is desirable, if no trade deal is agreed by 31 December and UK trade with the EU is conducted on WTO terms.
BIFA director general, Robert Keen commented: “This is not a political comment from our members. They are a pragmatic group. They understand that the UK has left the EU.
“It is a clear message to Government that BIFA members and the clients that they serve have great reservations over whether they will have the capacity to handle the major changes to the UK’s trading relationship at the start of 2021, such as new customs documentation and procedures.”
The survey revealed considerable concern over recruitment of staff qualified and experienced in Customs procedures and the lack of available time to train them.
With no extension to the transition period, 50% of respondents felt they would not have sufficient staff to undertake additional customs-related work and 60% felt they would not have time for comprehensive training of new recruits.
In a recent letter to the parliamentary committee responsible for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, BIFA raised ongoing concerns over potentially misleading and ambiguous comments from politicians and government regarding Customs matters, including plans for a new customs training school.
In the letter, BIFA noted that it had heard that the Government is planning a new customs academy in Kent but, despite representing companies that undertake a large proportion of the UK’s customs entries, and is itself the largest provider of such training services, it has not been invited to participate in any substantive talks.

Keen added: “Sadly, it is a further example of the lack of meaningful consultation with UK trade regarding the policies and procedures required in order to ensure that trade with the EU can continue relatively uninterrupted post 31 December 2020.
“With very little progress to date on key negotiating points in the formal talks and with many of the civil service resources previously assigned to support negotiations reallocated to deal with the coronavirus emergency response, it would be very risky and unwise not to seek an extension.
“Even before the pandemic, our members were concerned that the 11-month transition wouldn’t leave enough time to prepare for a potential no deal. Having had their businesses affected badly by the effects of the pandemic, I really do wonder whether they, and the clients they serve, will have the capacity to increase readiness for a sharp change in trading practices and conditions from the start of next year.
“We know that the Government is capable of listening to advice from business. Last Friday’s announcement that workers within the haulage and freight industry are exempt from the government’s new measures concerning travellers entering the country, resulted from much lobbying by BIFA amongst others.
“When 72% of the 400 BIFA member companies which completed the survey call for an extension of the transition period, we can only hope that the Government will again be listening.”

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