DOWNING STREET AND BREXIT PRIORITIES FOR THE TRANSPORT INDUSTRY
Each December, those working in the transport industry normally find themselves solely focused on the pre-Xmas peak season – arguably the busiest time of our entire year.
However, this year’s preparations are rather different, given that we are also having to devote considerable time to plan for the potential impact of Brexit.
As a successful company with extensive operations across Europe, Simarco has naturally taken a keen interest in what the shape of any eventual agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union will mean for ourselves and our clients.
Our interest was heightened by an invitation to join the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling MP, in a ‘round-table discussion at 10 Downing Street within the last week on Brexit.
In addition to ourselves and a number of other logistics firms were some of the transport industry’s main representative bodies, including the Freight Transport Association (FTA), the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) and the Road Haulage Association (RHA).
Whilst the terms of the agreement struck last month with the EU and agreed by ministers were very much up for discussion, none of us could ignore the possibiility of the date by when the UK will no longer be an EU member state passing without its terms being ratified by parliament in Westminster.
As deliberations about the timing and the outcome of the British parliament’s vote on the matter demonstrated, logistics operators like Simarco have been obliged to put measures in place to insulate clients from any possible negative effects of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.
The Downing Street session underlined that although an exit from what used to be called the Common Market is still on the cards, such ‘no-deal’ contingencies certainly amount to common sense.
Despite the polemic uttered by Brussels and its critics, though, there also appears a realisation that both Europe and the UK require a fully functional transport industry in order to thrive after Brexit, regardless of what happens.
Arguably the most sensitive element for any logistics firm in making that happen is that of customs.
The idea of greater delay and expense in processing imports or exports is acknowledged on all sides of the withdrawal debate as not really being in anyone’s interests.
Yet there is an appreciation that moving goods across borders is likely entail some additional customs work for the authorities, logistics operators and their clients once the UK goes its own way.
That’s not simply because the Chief Executive of HMRC, Jon Thompson, has already warned that the Customs Declaration Service (CDS) will not be ready until after the end of March, when the UK leaves the EU.
Only last month, he informed the House of Commons’ Treasury Select Committee that there were no swift solutions (https://www.civilserviceworld.com/articles/news/hmrc-chief-brexiteer-customs-plan-could-cost-uk-firms-%C2%A320bn-year).
Businesses, he added, would most likely bear the cost, with administration running into many billions of pounds.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Downing Street meeting underlined the need for any new procedures to be phased in gradually rather than introduced suddenly and without time for operators and clients to adjust to the new regulatory environment.
The discussion was a useful opportunity to hear directly about the implications of Brexit for our industry and our clients from a senior member of the Government.
As we left, however, we were all aware that the proposals discussed will remain just that either until they are agreed and become law or are abandoned and replaced by the uncertainty of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.
What is apparent is that the transport industry is on everyone’s mind as the clock ticks down to withdrawal from the EU due to its economic and strategic importance.
There is broad consensus across the logistics profession to do what we can to – quite literally – help move all parties towards a positive resolution.