Brexit: worst-case avoided – for now?

worst-case Brexit

It has been more than six months since the EU and the UK have officially parted ways and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement came into effect on January 1, 2021. Despite some dire warnings and worst-case scenarios, such as up to 7,000 trucks being stuck in Kent, these have not materialised so far. Even though disruptions still happened, stockpiling and certain preparations helped alleviate some of the major pressures during this period that also coincided with unprecedented COVID-19 restrictions. 

Stockpiling

As many businesses feared the repercussions of Brexit, they started stockpiling to create a buffer for the first few months until rules had been more settled and processes become clearer. During November 2020, as many as 230,000 trucks drove through Dover, the highest tally of the year. This helped reduce the number of lorries crossing after January 1, 2021, as only 130,000 lorries crossed the channel that month compared to the seasonal average of about 200,000. Lorry traffic between Ireland and Britain fell 50% in the early stages of 2021, as many businesses avoided initial post-Brexit border checks at Dublin Port in January and February, according to Simon Carswell, writing for the Irish Times. Many could do this because they had been stockpiling before Brexit.

Compliance

Many suppliers were backing off from the bureaucracy around Brexit and COVID-19 and many trucks showed a much higher level of compliance with the required paperwork, avoiding complications and being turned away. According to the Financial Times, in early January 2021, only 8% of trucks were turned away, which fell further to 2% the following month. The UK government attributed this to the £800m investments in border jobs, technology and infrastructure.

Kent Access Permit discontinued

Even though officials also credit the Kent Access Permit for its effectiveness, an online registration portal threatening to fine drivers £300 if they failed to pre-declare their paperwork before driving into Kent, it was discontinued in April 2021. The news was generally reported to have been received positively, particularly by the UK haulage industry.

Communication

Additionally, border controls in France had not stopped as many trucks as foreseen in worst-case scenarios. Even though initially hundreds of trucks had been stopped, this figure was quickly reported to fall to 7% that were being sent to orange lanes for checks, according to Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president of the ports of Calais and Boulogne. In order to correct common mistakes and guide logistics companies more effectively, UK government officials had also established a communications line with French, Dutch and Spanish counterparts throughout January, aiming to provide feedback on where complications arose and how to mitigate them.

Alex Veitch, Policy Chief at Logistics UK, and reported by the Financial Times, said that the UK government also applied a “90-10 rule” to its preparation, meaning that it focused hardest on the 10,000 or so largest UK businesses who account for about 90% of UK trade with the EU.

Consequences

Brexit might not have immediately and plainly shown the consequences of divorcing from the EU, but the structural changes it has introduced are undeniable. The cost of moving freight has soared, partly because of Brexit-related driver shortages and a reluctance among EU drivers to risk customs delays when returning to the EU, according to John Lucy, Head of International Transport at the Road Haulage Association. Lucy continued, “UK export trailer prices have doubled or tripled in six months. A trailer load from the north-west to Belgium was going out at £500 last year, but now it’s up to £1,500 for the same load.”

Thanks to measures taken, worst-case scenarios have not materialised in the first months of Brexit, logistics experts still see reason for caution as further customs processes are to be introduced as part of the phased implementation over the remaining months of 2021.

Source: Transport Intelligence, July 22, 2021

Author: Transport Intelligence

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