The UK’s haulage industry has warned that the disruption to Britain’s trade is not going away.
Recent data shows that the chaos at the start of the year – which the government described simply as ‘teething problems’ – has caused a collapse of UK exports to the EU by 41%.
The Office for National Statistics believes this drop will rectify itself over the coming weeks, but the trucking industry begs to differ.
According to the Road Haulage Association (RHA), traffic flows are running at about 90% of pre-Brexit levels. Many European lorries deliver to the UK but return across the Channel empty.
As Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy at the RHA, explained: “You always get around 20% of lorries returning empty, but that has doubled.”
He continued by saying that many EU hauliers are being put off by the red tape of exporting to the EU and would rather avoid the hassle by returning with empty trailers.
Since 1 January, trade has flowed easier into the EU than out because, unlike the EU, the UK did not impose restrictions and tariffs on imports.
The UK had been planning to impose restrictions on food and plants entering the country in April. This had created growing panic among logistics companies and retailers about supplies into supermarkets.
However, on 12 March, Michael Gove acknowledged Britain was not ready to deal with this and delayed the plans by six months, blaming Covid-19.
Gove’s announcement was largely welcomed by the UK industry, but some pointed out that the Cabinet Office minister should have blamed Brexit rather than coronavirus for the delay.
Whatever the reason for the drop in exports, Covid and Brexit have created a double shock for industry and companies recognise they have their work cut out finding a solution.