Freight News, Road, Logistics, Business

We ARE on the Brexit case, says Cabinet Office

[ March 11, 2021   //   ]

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has published a long rebuttal of criticism by the Road Haulage Association and other business groups about the effectiveness of post-Brexit trading arrangements.

It says that: “Thanks to the hard work put in by hauliers and traders to get ready for the end of the Brexit transition period, there are no queues at the Short Straits, disruption at the border has so far been minimal and freight movements are now close to normal levels, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

“As a responsible government, we made extensive preparations for a wide range of scenarios at the border, including the reasonable worst case. However, it appears increasingly unlikely that our reasonable worst case scenario will occur.”

We know that some businesses are facing challenges with the new rules, which is why we are operating export helplines, running webinars with policy experts and offering businesses support via our network of 300 international trade advisers. This is on top of the millions we have invested in the customs intermediaries sector.”

The Cabinet Office promises “to work constructively with the Road Haulage Association and other business representative organisations, including through the weekly Brexit Business Taskforce, to get them the tailored support to tackle any outstanding issues”.

In its statement, the Cabinet Office was that it does not recognise RHA’s figures showing a 68% fall in exports going through British ports to the EU in January 2021 compared with January 2020. It says that, according to Border Operations Centre monitoring, in the last full week (30 January to 5 February) both outbound and inbound flows across all UK ports were close to normal, at 95% outbound and 96% inbound, in spite of the impact of Covid lockdowns. For the same week, flows outbound specifically across the Short Straits were at 82%, while the Port of Dover’s own data confirms that volumes are close to normal.

It adds that claims by RHA chief executive Richard Burnett, that 65-75% of vehicles that had come over from the EU were going back empty “does not reflect the data from our French counterparts, which puts the figure at closer to 50%”, adding: “It is an entirely normal part of freight flows to have empty lorries on the outbound leg from the UK into the EU – this has always been the case.” Indeed, estimates suggest that prior to 1 January, around 30% of all outbound lorries were empty.

As for Mr Burnett’s statement that offers to facilitate a roundtable with affected businesses had so far has been ignored, the Cabinet Office said: “We have had intensive engagement with the road haulage industry over many months, including through the weekly CDL-led Brexit Business Taskforce, and we are still facilitating regular calls with representative groups.”

It added that a separate working group on the Northern Ireland Protocol has also been established to drive forward key actions, such as the very successful groupage pilot on which DEFRA and DAERA partnered with Logistics UK.

Nor does the Cabinet Office recognised claims of a shortage of up to 50,000 customs brokers saying; “Recent survey data has shown the sector expected to see a near fourfold increase in their ability to process declarations and that there are intermediary businesses who currently have spare capacity; 50,000 is an arbitrary industry calculation – it is not and never has been a Government target.”

The Government has also invested £84millon to boost capacity of customs intermediary businesses.

In contrast to RHA warnings, all IT systems and infrastructure were ready in time for Brexit and are operating effectively, the statement continued and trader and haulier readiness has been significantly higher than planned for or anticipated, evidenced by the “excellent levels of compliance” with the Check an HGV and Kent Access Permit requirements and very low turnback rate at Dover and Eurotunnel, consistently below 5%.

As for the Government not doing enough to address” the “devastating consequences” on critical supply chains, the Cabinet Office “monitors critical supply chains daily” and all “indicators are within normal tolerances”.

While traders on the whole are managing the changes well, the government knows that some businesses are facing challenges with some of the new rules but the government is meeting businesses from specific sectors across all parts of the UK weekly through the Brexit Business Taskforce chaired by Michael Gove.

It is also increasing staff and opening hours for HMRC exporting telephone and online helplines, among other measures. It is also offering support to businesses moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland through its Trader Support Service

It also says that an RHA claim that new guidance on groupage for food and agri goods subject to SPS checks had not been stress tested was wrong, saying that industry participated in workshops with DAERA and Defra to develop the guidance. They were also involved in pilot runs into NI with the final guidance reflecting that experience. “The new guidance gives much needed clarity on what is required to be compliant with EU law and provides options as to how they meet the required SPS checks.”

It adds: “We have been clear that there are outstanding problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol that need to be resolved to ensure trade continues to flow smoothly and there is as little impact as possible on the everyday life of communities. We will continue to work constructively and pragmatically with the European Commission to restore confidence in the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.”