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Border delays appear to be the only certainty facing the UK after Brexit and should be the highest priority for the freight industry.
Using a crystal ball to illustrate how little anyone understood about the post-Brexit future, Robert Keen, director general of BIFA, told delegates at Multimodal in Birmingham this week: “We, like most people, have heard all sorts of facts and figures, but really we don’t know any more than we did on 23 June.
“We have tried not to speculate too much as we don’t know very much.”
Delays at the EU border would be costly and damaging, and the freight industry should try to work out now how to mitigate that, said Peter MacSwiney, chairman of ASM (Agency Sector Management) and joint chair of the UK’s Joint Customs Clearance Committee.
“We are trying to engage with as many sectors as we can. We’ve been to Belfast, where there is an appetite for sorting it out.
“We are trying to achieve no delays – the ro-ro ports are particularly concerned. We do not want a traffic jam from Paris to Stoke on Trent.”
BIFA’s Robert Windsor added that the best way to prevent delays was to get the goods cleared first, wherever possible.
“We are advocating something as close to the single market as possible. But the one thing Theresa May always stumbles on is Customs. It is worrying.
“The European ports are worried too. We’ve spent 40 years trying to align our systems. Brexit is going to hurt to some extent – but there could be a bit of give and take.”
Mr MacSwiney says a frictionless border is the highest priority and that he would like to keep the Single Transit Contract, so that for a consignment going from Heathrow to Paris to New York, the EU export port would be deemed to be Heathrow, as it is now.
He also explained that the new Customs Declarations Service (CDS) which will gradually replace CHIEF, began development several years ago and so was not designed to deal with Brexit – “but I think it probably will”.
He added, optimistically: “I think we are going to be OK. We are engaging fully with Customs, and they are listening to us. In the UK, we have a history of sorting it out.”
Mr Keen stressed that freight forwarders and the wider logistics industry could be sure that in BIFA and ASM, “you have the best people talking to Customs on your behalf”.
He concluded: “The complexity and level of detail is mind-boggling, but hopefully you have been reassured that we have the best people and best tools – as well as the crystal ball, of course.”