The transport and logistics industry has described claims by the EU Commission that it will restrict access to British trucks at the end of the post-Brexit transition period as “ridiculous” and would leave the EU “shooting itself in the foot”.
The Commission said the UK’s request for continued cabotage rights after the 31 December deadline was “fundamentally unbalanced” and would give rights to UK hauliers that are “extremely close to single market membership”, which it was not prepared to allow.
However, Europa MD Andrew Baxter said a situation where UK trucks weren’t allowed full access to the EU was “pretty ridiculous” considering the UK / EU transport market is dominated by continental-based trucks.
“Over 90% of channel crossings aren’t on UK-based trucks,” he told motortransport.co.uk. “A huge proportion of the market is based on east European trucks because the salaries of the drivers are dramatically less than those of UK drivers.
“So for the EU to say they can’t allow UK trucks to operate in the EU, or they’re worried about cabotage, would be ludicrous. The threat to UK hauliers of EU drivers doing cabotage in the UK is a much more serious issue.
“I would find it unbelievable if the issue weren’t solved. It will be, because it would be ridiculous for it not to be.”
A senior director at another leading logistics firm, who did not wish to be named, agreed: “Twenty years ago, if you were on a bridge at Dover harbour you’d see two out of three trucks were UK registered,” he said. “We were used to exporting our products around the world. But if you stood on a bridge at Dover now, at best one in 10 or 15 is UK registered. So it’s going to hurt those 14 out of 15 trucks which are EU-registered more than it’s going to hurt the UK industry. The EU will shoot themselves in the foot, they’ll want those trucks to clear Dover quickly.”
The source claimed that if a customs arrangement wan’t agreed before the deadline there would be “a queue back to London from Dover and from Calais to Paris”.
But he claimed the issue would become “like the millennium bug scare” and be resolved: “Brussels have it in their own interests to sort it out because their own exports will get held up,” he said.
Industry bodies have also been quick to respond to the issue, largely echoing the views of business leaders.
The RHA described the EU Commission’s stance as “short sighted, deeply concerning and likely to severely damage businesses on both sides of the Channel”.
“The UK government is trying to provide symmetry but in terms of market access the EU’s position is far more damaging because of the balance, or imbalance, of trade,” said chief executive Richard Burnett. “Around 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 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.”
Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at Logistics UK said: “There are two sides to every border, and we are very hopeful that the EU will recognise the economic benefits to having continued access to the UK market for its hauliers, while acknowledging the contribution that UK hauliers bring to their own market. After all, the EU’s hauliers do double the value of haulage trade in the UK that the UK’s own operators do in the EU.
“Logistics UK is hopeful that a compromise can be reached in negotiations – without one, the situation for both UK and EU hauliers is very bleak, as the alternative permit system provides very little access on either side of the border, and the resulting slowdown in traffic across the border would put the nation’s interconnected supply chain at risk.”