Over the two years since the idea of Britain leaving the EU has become a real issue, we have spent a lot of time digesting the issue, and figuring out the likely deals that we will see as a result of leaving. A lot of the debates have proven to be circular, and while the political heads have been bashing out seemingly minor issues, companies have already started to change things on the ground. Some sectors are already taking a step back from Britain, even though Brexit is still a ways off.
Disruption to HaulageOne of the main problems that has surfaced in recent months is that of uncertainty about the economic future of the UK, and this is weighing heavily on the haulage sector in particular. Without knowing whether there will be a Brexit deal or what form that deal will take, it is hard for haulage companies to quote accurately for post March 2019 jobs. Companies can’t answer even the most basic of questions about that time period, and this means that they have no idea how to quote, how long transportation will take, and how prices or timescales will end up being affected.
Ongoing Freight ConcernsThe Freight Transport Association was one of the first groups to raise concerns about Brexit and trade. The FTA put together a document called ‘Keep Britain Trading’ which laid out how the government could propose a customs and borders system that would work post-Brexit. James Hookham, the FTA deputy chief executive, noted that of the eight demands that were in the list of essentials for ‘Keep Britain Trading’ from the FTA, not one has occurred.
This puts the UK in a difficult position. Not one of the suggestions that was given by haulage professionals was taken into account by the Brexit ministers. Mr Hookham says that there is no guarantee that the UK haulage companies will be able to continue employing HGV drivers (of which there are 43,000 in Britain right now) that are nationals of another part of the EU.
Potential Job LossesEasy as HGV said that there are just 20,000 new drivers entering the industry each year, which means that there is a deficit of more than 50,000 skilled drivers. The skills shortage has existed for five years, and while there are efforts to raise recruitment, the industry remains under severe strain. Brexit could cause the loss of an additional 43,000 haulage drivers, which would almost double the shortage. Even if demand for haulage were to fall slightly as a result of Brexit, the trade and business infrastructure of the country would be under imminent danger of collapse with such a huge shortage of skilled drivers.
This isn’t an issue that is unique to haulage. A lot of other industries are in a similar position. Brexit has highlighted exactly what a fine balance the country has been walking for a long time, and for the haulage industry, these challenges are just the beginning. Post-Brexit, we could see huge delays because of a new 2 minute long document check, per vehicle, in Dover. This would cause tailbacks which could span 17 miles. Drivers might be faced with having to turn down work which takes them to the EU, or have to take new tests and acquire new licenses, because the EU will no longer recognise a UK driving license after Brexit becomes official.
Brexit presents some massive threats to the industry. The FTA is working with the government to come to a deal that will keep Britain able to trade and operate smoothly in the EU, but even if it is able to get some concessions now, there is not likely to be a smooth transition. The industry will be facing some huge and interesting challenges in the run up to, and in the months after, the Brexit deadline in March 2019.