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IRU: Why Europe’s truckers are Brexit’s frontline

Caption: Boris Blanche, managing director of the International Road Transport Union; Image: IRU

A no-deal or disruptive U.K. exit from the European Union (EU) will have catastrophic implications for Europe’s trucking companies, according to Boris Blanche, managing director of the International Road Transport Union (IRU).

Blanche, who previously highlighted how driver shortages in Europe are becoming “a real and growing threat,”  believes there is now a real danger that the EU and U.K. will not agree a deal by the October 31 deadline, resulting in the U.K. crashing out of Europe’s customs union and single market.

Road transport is the first and last leg of every journey and its impact touches every aspect of our daily lives,” he told FreightWaves. “A no-deal Brexit or a deal that wasn’t favorable to the road transport industry would inevitably cause disruption and administrative burdens for operators. This disruption will impact the economy, businesses and, ultimately, consumers at the till.”

The U.K. government recently admitted a no-deal Brexit from the EU could see truck flows on English Channel tunnel and ferry routes cut to just 50 percent of current levels for three months, while truck drivers could also face delays of up to 2.5 days before crossing into France. 

Blanche notes that between 7,000 and 10,000 trucks use the Calais-Dover route alone and, in the 12 months ending in June 2019, 3.5 million road goods vehicles traveled from Great Britain to Europe.

“Without a customs union, the U.K. and EU must take steps to minimize disruption and prevent truck shortages from occurring due to buildups at the borders,” he said. “It’s vital that the U.K. and EU offer operators clarity on the situation as quickly as possible and allow a transition period lengthy enough for them to adapt. In the case of a no-deal Brexit, a transition period of at least 12 months would be required.”

Given the current political mess in the U.K., an organized transition seems unlikely. Indeed, it is the swirling confusion around Brexit and its many possible outcomes that has made it so difficult for shippers and trucking companies to prepare adequately.

“At the moment there is insufficient information available on what Brexit means and how to prepare for it in a cost-efficient way,” said Blanche. “That’s why the IRU is working closely with high level representatives from both the U.K. government and the EU to provide recommendations for potential solutions and ensure the provision of sufficient, reliable information for businesses.”

In Blanche’s view, there is no better solution than maintaining the single market and customs union in terms of the seamless transport they offer once Britain has left the EU. However, given that the current U.K. government has rejected any deals that include maintaining membership in both trade arrangements, Blanche believes fallback options are still available to policymakers.

“TIR (Transports Internationaux Routiers Convention) for instance, is a ready-to-use solution for customs transit,” he suggested. “Today, over 10,000 transport and logistics companies use TIR to quickly and reliably move goods across international borders, so we know that the system operates in an effective and efficient way.

“However, the introduction of TIR in the U.K. will require a market access regime, which would most likely involve permits, and it is therefore vital that a long enough transition period is put in place for operators and transport companies to adapt to the change.”

Blanche added, “Alternatively, the U.K. could remain a member of the New Computerised Transit System (NCTS).”

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