As Theresa May suggests Britain will pull out of the EU’s single market and customs union as part of a “swift and clean” Brexit, the UK Freight Transport Association (FTA) has warned Parliament that exiting without first creating an arrangement for “frictionless trade” could lead to expensive customs delays for ports, hauliers and shippers.
The customs union provides a series of uniform tariffs on the import of foreign goods, and prohibits member states from charging tariffs for moving goods across borders within the EU. The worry is that renegotiating the UK’s customs arrangements with the rest of Europe could take years – and that additional clearances needed in the meantime could lead to containers being delayed in port for up to four days. On average, one hour’s delay in port adds £15,000 to the road haulage industry.
The FTA has warned that the UK’s customs authorities will need to carry out a plethora of additional checks to goods imported from the EU – which are currently waved through without significant clearances, but which would need to be treated in the same way as goods from the rest of the world – totalling around 300 million extra import declarations per year. This could create enormous disruption unless thousands of additional staff are hired, at significant cost to UK customs.
FTA deputy chief executive James Hookham said: “Shippers, forwarders and transport operators in the UK have been used to open borders in Europe for 24 years so it’s going to take time to adjust, it can’t just change overnight. …Hopefully, there will be ‘frictionless trade’ between the UK and EU, but if there isn’t, or a prospect there won’t be, then these are the key issues for FTA members.”
It was also warned that the port of Dover may not be big enough to cope with the extra lorries which would need to park, and the containers which would need to be stored whilst their contents are checked. Mr Hookham warned: “Dover doesn’t have the space. Absolutely categorically we should avoid physical checks on our lorries.”
The Government has been urged to start planning how it will fund the extra staff and facilities needed. In response to the FCA’s warnings, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Yvette Cooper said: “I’m very concerned about the evidence we have heard and the way this could hit manufacturing.”