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An ‘angry’ UK freight industry has lashed out at the government, accusing it of being reckless and “playing chicken with crucial parts of the British economy”.

In a strongly worded statement, the Freight Transport Association said its confidence that the government could deliver a frictionless Brexit was “fast collapsing”.

At the start of the year, the FTA made eight demands in a list of essentials that would enable the UK to keep trading after Brexit.

“Not a single one has been progressed,” said deputy chief executive James Hookham.

He said there was nowhere to check goods at ports and no system to do so; there were doubts over the employability of 13% of the driver workforce; no decision on whether UK driver qualifications would be recognised in the EU; and the “real show stopper” – that there are only 103 international haulage permits to cover the 300,000 journeys made by UK trucks to Europe annually.

“The logistics industry is being asked to decide who would get a permit to drive if there are not enough to go around – in effect, being asked to destroy the business of its international haulage members.”

The UK has less than 300 days until it is scheduled to leave the EU, and there have been no trade talks or agreements – and the government continues to fight among itself, he said.

“In the event of a ‘no-deal- Brexit’, it will be the logistics industry, which operates 24/7, 365 days a year, that will have to pick up the pieces of the failure of politicians to agree,” said Mr Hookham. “No doubt we will face the unwarranted ire of consumers and businesses if goods cannot be delivered on time.

“The industry’s frustration with the lack of progress is building daily.

“Logistics businesses simply cannot answer their customers’ questions about how they will move goods after Brexit.  Manufacturers and retailers are losing faith and fear that post-Brexit Britain is at real risk of becoming nothing more than a series of road blocks at our ports and airports.”

Mr Hookham also pointed out that while the UK “dithered and failed to face facts”, the EU states were recruiting border officials.

“What is really making our members angry is that these real, legitimate concerns are simply being dismissed by some members of the government on the basis that it will not be in the EU’s interests to impose them.

“This is a reckless attitude to take and is playing chicken with crucial parts of the British economy and the livelihoods of the seven million Britons in the industry.

“All the evidence is that the other EU member states are recruiting hordes of border officials to enforce their rule book, regardless of the cost to their businesses and consumers. Expecting economic realism to kick in after 50 years of top-down bureaucracy is a bit of a stretch from UK politicians who have always slammed the EU for its obsession with rules and bureaucracy.

“The reliance on the other side blinking first is hanging the logistics industry out to dry.

“Kicking the can down the road to October may be easy for politicians, but by then the Christmas delivery season will be in full swing for the logistics sector and another four months of planning time will have been lost. Our members want to make things work, but our hands are tied.

“With “Armageddon” scenarios apparently being developed by Whitehall to cope with a no-deal-Brexit next March, even the government seems to think it may be all over.”

The latest Ti global contract logistics report reveals yet more uncertainty for companies.

While the customs union and hard border issues will create complexity for contract logistics, the report goes on to note: “Ultimately though, what will really matter for contract logistics providers is whether the UK leaves the single market. Not being in a customs union would be disruptive, but the level of disruption being outside the single market would be orders of magnitude higher.

“Border inspections are mainly concerned with regulatory issues. They don’t take place between EU member states because of the common regulatory infrastructure (the single market). Instead, they take place at the point of production (at factories). But immediately upon leaving the single market, the UK would become a so-called ‘third country’ subject to regulatory checks at the border. That is fundamentally how the single market works and there is no way around it.

“UK borders are not set up to cope with an increased volume of checks and there appears to be no quick fix to overcome this. It only takes a small disruption to finely tuned UK-Europe cross-border supply chains for things to grind to a halt. The single market decision is the key flashpoint that LSPs should monitor.”

The FTA is hosting a one day conference, entitled Keep Britain Trading, on 20 June 2018.

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