Irish truckers, ports warn time is running out over Brexit plans           

Irish truckers, ports warn time is running out over Brexit plans           

A container ship at Tivoli Docks in Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

Irish and British businesses, ports, air, and shipping lines, as well as hauliers, looked on in disbelief as the EU and UK political leaders once again pushed out their 'we-want-a-deal-but-are-ready-for-no-deal' statements, following the failure to meet last week's deadline for an exit agreement. 

The threats sound increasingly less credible as the  coronavirus economic devastation becomes clearer by the week. In a rational world, neither the UK nor the EU could afford to add another crisis to the unprecedented recession.

The extent of the impact of Covid-19 on business preparations for Brexit was seen in a recent UK survey: It showed that two-thirds of businesses had their Brexit preparations disrupted, and only  25% were highly confident about dealing with the extra administrative burden.

The main barriers for Irish companies preparing for Brexit, said Enterprise Ireland, were the uncertainty around Britain's exit from the EU and Covid-19.

The Enterprise Ireland survey of 600 companies revealed that customs and logistics are the priorities among businesses as the January Brexit deadline approaches.

Most businesses are relying on their sub-supplier network of freight forwarders, hauliers, shipping lines, and airlines, as well as the port operators, to get their goods in and out of the UK market. 

They are focused on upgrading their IT systems and training staff to handle the export-import documentation, safety and security filings, Vat, and tariff-duty payments.

The budget could have gone further in supporting companies in the freight-distribution and logistics sectors to prepare for the economic and operational shocks, said Aidan Flynn, general manager, Freight Transport Association Ireland.

"If a trade agreement between the EU and UK is not forthcoming, it will deliver a deep, sharp shock to the movement of goods between Britain and Ireland," Mr Flynn said.  

"This scenario would create significant logjams in customs systems and delays at borders, as the infrastructure, enforcement regime, and the private sector will not be fully prepared," he said, warning that the budget had failed to fund training and to encourage more direct routes between Ireland and continental Europe. 

The British Road Haulage Association is of the same mind, saying that the "time is desperately short" to clarify arrangements for lorries and goods crossing the Irish Sea at the end of the Brexit transition period.

It said the UK government's proposals for goods movements between Wales and Ireland were still "slim on detail". If lorries are not prepared, they would be prevented from crossing. 

The UK's Revenue and Customs indicate that around 600 lorries and trailers a day leave Holyhead Port, the UK's second-biggest roll-on-and-roll-off facility. 

John Whelan is the managing partner of The Linkage-Partnership.
John Whelan is the managing partner of The Linkage-Partnership.

There are no arrangements for a lorry park on Anglesey to hold any lorries unable to board a ferry for Ireland, potentially hitting Irish importers. 

However, lorries arriving from Ireland will not face any checks by UK authorities, who have given until July 2021 for completion of import documentation.

The UK has signed up to the Common Travel Convention, which means exporters routing goods through the UK, and onwards to the continent, won’t face any change to the current customs documentation. 

However, there are reports that the main EU-facing ports of Dover and Felixstowe may see extensive delays. 

Irish ports will be required to deal with the impact of Brexit to varying degrees. 

Dublin and Rosslare, which handle over 90% of the truck roll-on roll-off movements of goods to the UK, have invested heavily in facilities to handle the expected increase in customs inspections and documentation processing. 

The Port of Cork, which is primarily a container lift-on lift-off port, is somewhat isolated from the tumult of Brexit, and there are signs that exporters worried about congestion in using the UK as a land bridge are moving to direct container shipping to the Continent.

Boris Johnson's internal markets bill has complicated trading with the North. 

Businesses had geared up to the Northern Ireland Protocol, whose main tenet was that only goods meeting EU standards would be sold in the North, even if the goods were from Britain. 

Traders and their hauliers will, once again, be expected to come up with instantaneous solutions to last-minute political decisions. 

  • John Whelan is managing partner of international trade consultancy, the Linkage-Partnership

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