Trade Associations Concerned Over Future for British Road Haulage Operations in Europe

UK – EU – As talks resumed in Brussels over the future trade relationship post Brexit, both the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and LogisticsUK had concerns over British hauliers access to the European market after December 2020. The RHA has expressed its ‘deep concern’ at the continuing refusal from Brussels to grant British truckers the access to Europe they need to keep the UK supply chain moving. Not allowing them the same access rights that the UK is willing to negotiate with the EU it says will severely damage businesses on both sides of the Channel.

RHA chief executive, Richard Burnett commented: “The UK Government is trying to provide symmetry but in terms of market access the EUs position is far more damaging because of the balance, or imbalance, of trade.

85% of the volume of goods that come into the UK is moved by European hauliers, UK operators are responsible for the movement of only 15%. “The government approach is to try and negotiate access to the EU while trying to maintain symmetry, but the EU’s current decision puts them at a disadvantage.

Maintaining the supply chain between the Great Britain and the rest of Europe can only be achieved on a level playing field. “The UK is taking a liberal view, suggesting that cabotage remains on the table. But symmetry works both ways.

If the EU remains adamant to remove cabotage, the UK will have no choice but to follow suit. If this is the outcome then the intransigence of the EU means that they will be shooting themselves in the foot.” Speaking to the BBC this morning Elizabeth de Jong, Logistics UK’s policy director, made the same point regarding cabotage, collecting and then delivering goods within another EU state, saying under transition terms hauliers could only undertake three such movements in seven days and also expressed concerns over the paucity of travel permits for British hauliers if a structured deal is not struck.

She said the failure to reach a deal would mean there could not be complete freedom for hauliers to travel. As regards ‘point to point’, that is one stop deliveries within Europe she expected a bilateral agreement saying she was ‘pretty confident’. The same could not be said for more complex movements, for example cross-trade consignments, where a UK haulier was allowed to collect in one EU country such as France and deliver to another, for example Germany.

She continued: “Our whole negotiations are [based] around reciprocal rights. Our big, big concern is that if agreement isn’t reached then the fall back position is the old permit system where we will only get 2,000 permits, so only one in four of the eight thousand companies in the UK would have a permit and they could only do one journey at a time, and that would have a massive impact.”

Optimistically Ms de Jong said she was still expecting a deal to be struck, making a point that has been mentioned often during these negotiations. She said it was in the economic interest of the EU as trade with the UK was worth twice to Europe compared to Britain. Unfortunately this avoids the counter argument that such trade is divided up between all of the EU states, and therefore is worth far less to each of them individually.

The other point is of course that the continuous stream of HGVs which come in via the Dover Straits and elsewhere, carry vast amounts of Britain’s food supplies and other essentials. The country could not set up any system to stop this flow, whilst the thought that the goods could be made up by imports from other areas has little credibility, cost of transport alone would be a major factor. The cynics amongst us foresee an end product where UK hauliers will be cramped by a totally unnecessary set of artificial barriers set in place by an intransigent Europe, a stance more in keeping with an aggressive enemy than a trading partner.

The free access which both parties have enjoyed over many years have no real need for major changes, it seems however that politicians may be prepared to ignore common sense to suit their own agendas.

Photo: A fleet of left hand drive Volvo FH 4×2 tractor units being sold by the company after being in service with McLaren Racing for two years.