Warnings Intensify over Brexit's Uncertainties

The Port of Dover is among the facilities that would be most affected by customs inspections for EU-UK trade (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 06-07-2018 06:56:00

The UK's Freight Transport Association and the heads of key ports on the EU side of the English Channel are sounding the alarm about uncertainty over the terms of Britain's exit from the European Union.

Prime Minister Theresa May's government has not yet reached a final agreement with the European Commission on how (or whether) to implement inspections and customs duties on EU-UK trade once Brexit is complete, nor on the trade policies they will follow during a two-year transition period. Less than 300 days remain before Brexit takes effect and the transition begins. 

“Details of whether or not the country will have a Transition/Implementation Period are still unclear, there is still no decision on what Customs arrangements we will have from March 2019 onwards," warned FTA deputy CEO James Hookham in a statement. “We keep getting told that all food and agricultural exports to the Continent and Ireland will be checked at EU ports - but there is nowhere to check them, and the system to check them does not exist."

Hookham said that the UK government had promised hauliers that "frictionless" trade would continue post-Brexit under new agreements reached with the EU, and alleged that Downing Street had not delivered. “What is really making our members angry is that these real, legitimate concerns are simply being dismissed by some members of the Government," he said. "This is a reckless attitude to take and is playing chicken with crucial parts of the British economy and the livelihoods of the seven million Britons in the industry."

The FTA's concerns are shared on the other side of the channel. According to Joachim Coens, the CEO of the Port of Zeebrugge, the logistics industry needs certainty about the post-Brexit landscape, and soon. "The transition period of two years is fine, provided we know from the beginning of that transition period what we have to do," he said, addressing the UK Parliament's Treasury committee. "If this transition period means uncertainty during the transition period, then we will never be ready, never. It is not possible."

UK maritime associations have focused their Brexit advocacy efforts on the potential hurdles at ro-ro ports, which handle high volumes of trade across the English Channel and the Irish Sea. In written testimony submitted Monday, Jon Thompson, the First Permanent Secretary for Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs, confirmed that a proposed system of "highly streamlined" customs facilitation at some sites "may not be ready in full by January 2021, e.g. for RoRo [cargo] where action needs to be taken by other Member States."