Logistics sector ‘needs months, not minutes, to make a success of Brexit


The UK’s Freight Transport Association (FTA) has voiced its concerns on behalf of the logistics sector after the latest round of talks towards a UK-EU trade agreement concluded this week with little apparent progress, and indications that there may not be a formal agreement between the two sides until at least October – ahead of the UK’s scheduled departure from its so-called “transition period” at the end of this year following its exit from the EU in January.

The FTA said businesses “must be allowed sufficient time to prepare for whatever Brexit agreement is reached between the EU and UK, adding: “As the latest round of talks between the two sides concludes with no progress announced, and indications given that there may not be a formal agreement between the two sides until October at the earliest, the organisation has written to Michael Gove MP (Minister for the Cabinet Office and in charge of the UK’s side of Brexit negotations and preparations), to insist that there is sufficient time allowed at the end of the negotiations to enable the industry charged with keeping Britain trading to adapt to new arrangements, whatever is agreed.” 

Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at FTA, commented: “Logistics as a sector is fully committed to making a success of Brexit, but in order to do so, we will need time to prepare for whatever the final agreement looks like. We are not asking for the talks to be prolonged, but for sufficient time to be allowed for those required to undertake new business processes to get ready to do so.   

‘Eleventh hour’ concerns

“It looks more and more likely that consensus will not be reached between the two sides until the eleventh hour, with the UK’s transition period for leaving the EU ending on 31 December 2020. Therefore, there will simply not be enough time to put in place all the necessary systems and processes to help trade continue to run smoothly. This will be compounded by the fact that Christmas is traditionally our sector’s busiest time of year and there will be little time available for the necessary changes to be made.”    

She added: “COVID-19 has shown how vital a robust, fully functional supply chain is to the success of the UK and its economy; and while our members stand ready to be as adaptable and flexible as possible, much of the detail of our future trading arrangements as a country is still to be decided – not least what the position will be on customs tariffs and the detail of how checks on food and animals are to be conducted at the UK and EU borders. This level of information is crucial if the UK’s supply chain is to remain strong from 1 January 2021, and we are urging Mr Gove to ensure that we have sufficient time to prepare for whatever is agreed with the EU in political negotiations. “

FTA said it was the first major trade association to call for an extension to the transition period back in March, “for purely practical reasons” and had written to Michael Gove this week to urge government to consider new options to give the logistics industry sufficient time to prepare for the future trading arrangements with the EU.

Customs preparations

De Jong commented: “Up to a quarter of a million UK businesses will be required to make customs declarations for the first time when the UK leaves the EU, and that will need additional training, staff and customs agents, as well as infrastructure in our ports. Checks on livestock, fresh food and other perishable items will also need to be made at ports and airports, and we need clarity on how and where this process will work. 

“Like the rest of the economy, logistics has been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis, and while the challenges have been huge, goods and services are still moving along our supply chain.  Now we need time to ensure we are fully prepared for our next big challenge – the departure of the UK from the EU. That is a challenge which will take months, not minutes, to implement correctly. We need time to futureproof our supply chain and are urging government to listen and react to our concerns, for the sake of UK PLC.”