An extension to the Brexit transition period is essential as the country deals with the coronavirus crisis, claim two of the industry’s leading trade bodies.
Both the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and the Freight Transport Association (FTA) say that the current crisis makes the effective implementation of any new legislation impossible in the short term.
As a result, the industry is petitioning Government urgently to seek an extension to the current transition period for leaving the European Union, as well as suspending other planned domestic legislation which will impact the logistics sector.
“This is not about the relative merits of Brexit, or any trading arrangements which our industry will need to adopt,” explained Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at FTA. “This is purely and simply so the businesses tasked with keeping the UK’s supply chain intact can concentrate on the serious issues which the COVID-19 pandemic is placing on the industry.
“Logistics is facing unprecedented challenges, both in terms of keeping the UK economy supplied with all the goods it needs to function, as well as coping with the increased disruption to staffing levels caused by sickness and self-isolation and concerns about the viability of their businesses.
“Our first priority is always to deliver for our customers, and there is simply not enough capacity available to plan the major structural changes needed to implement a successful departure from the EU, as well as the myriad of other planned legislation changes on the horizon, as well as dealing with unprecedented pressures caused by COVID-19.”
RHA chief executive Richard Burnett has written to Michael Gove to call for an extension to the UK’s transition period for leaving the EU.
Burnett said: “As things stand right now, the coronavirus outbreak means that we are simply not in a position to give the complexity of future trade arrangements with the EU the necessary focus.
“We have always maintained a neutral stance as regards our relationship with the EU and this request is not trying to prolong the government’s plans – which we fully endorse.”
Burnett says that the UK’s road transport industry must be completely focused on supporting the unprecedented demand that has been placed on the supply chain and ensuring that the flow of critical goods – food and medical supplies – are maintained throughout this crisis.
In addition to requesting an extension to the Brexit transition period, FTA is also asking ministers to consider suspending the implementation of other legislation which will affect logistics operators in the short term.
This includes the expansion of the London-wide Low Emission Zone for HGVs and the London Direct Vision Standard due to take effect from October this year, as well as the start of other Clean Air Zones around the country, in areas including Birmingham and Leeds.
“All this new legislation, and new trading arrangements, need careful planning and implementation in normal circumstances,” said de Jong. “But it is clear they would bring major change to our sector at a time when we are fully committed to overcoming the challenges which COVID-19 presents.
“In addition to the administrative, practical and financial difficulties experienced by our sector, the pandemic will undoubtedly have a significant impact on supplies of new equipment, technology and vehicles in the coming months, as well as the industry’s ability to recruit and train new staff.
"Add in the challenge of adapting to new trading arrangements with the EU – which are yet to be formalised – and the situation is placing logistics under huge and unnecessary pressures.
“Logistics is a flexible industry, but such significant change cannot happen overnight, and there is simply not the capacity for planning and delivery of new legislation at present within the system.
"COVID-19 has created a once-in-a-lifetime emergency situation which needs the full attention of the whole sector – adding in a host of new legislation would place untold, unnecessary pressure on a supply chain that is already stretched. Our industry needs the support of government, not to be broken by it.”