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brexit customs

The government says it does not recognise figures from the Road Haulage Association (RHA) suggesting exports to the EU have slumped by over two-thirds since the end of the transition period on New Year’s Eve.

Responding to research from the RHA which showed a 68% decline in freight leaving the UK for Europe, Whitehall officials maintained that it was working with business to deal with “specific issues” but that traffic levels were almost back to normal.

Urgent intervention

A letter from the RHA to Cabinet Minister Michael Gove, seen by the Observer, called for “urgent intervention” from the government to help firms adjust to new administrative requirements following the UK’s departure from the EU customs union.

The RHA claimed that there are only 10,000 customs agents currently supporting traders, despite last year’s predictions that 50,000 would be needed.

The trade body also urged the government to provide a compensation package for hauliers to address losses suffered as a result of new customs processes and documentation.

Normal levels

The RHA’s claim that exports had slumped was denied by the government, however, with Whitehall officials saying traffic has been 95-100% normal levels on some days. 

“We don’t recognise these figures at all,” said a Cabinet Office spokesperson. “We know there are some specific issues and we are working with businesses to resolve them.”

Extensive preparations

The government maintained that contingencies it had put in place throughout 2020 have minimised delays at Dover.

A government spokesperson told the Guardian: “As a responsible government, we made extensive preparations for a wide range of scenarios at the border, including the reasonable worst case. However, it appears increasingly unlikely that our reasonable worst-case scenario will occur.”

Running empty

Part of the RHA’s argument is that lorries are returning to the continent empty because hauliers are avoiding taking on jobs due to border delays.

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the RHA, said about 65-75% of returning lorries were currently arriving empty.

Eurotunnel decline

The RHA letter comes as Eurotunnel indicated that freight traffic on its services had declined by about 37% annually, Lloyd’s Loading List reports

Its freight shuttle transported 82,484 trucks last month, a decrease of 37% compared to January 2020.

Eurotunnel said Brexit stockpiling, new border controls, and the requirement for a negative Covid test from drivers had caused the drop.