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British Supply Chains Facing "Severe" Disruption From Brexit, Industry Groups Warn Ministers

British Supply Chains Facing 'Severe' Disruption From Brexit, Industry Groups Warn Ministers

Industry groups have called for an "urgent" meeting with ministers to discuss their concerns over post-Brexit customs rules

3 min read

Britain's supply chains are at risk of "severe" distruption from new post-Brexit rules unless ministers take urgent action, industry groups have warned.

Eight of the UK's leading logistics trade groups have written to ministers calling for "urgent" meetings to discuss the "enormous challenge" facing the industry at the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.

The group, which includes the Road Haulage Association, said they were increasingly concerned there were "significant gaps" in the Government's efforts to provide a functional cross-border trade system, including fears over a shortage of customs officials and the use of untested IT systems.

In a letter to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, obtained by the Financial Times, the group said: "As key participants in the supply chain who will be required to deliver a functional operating border for GB and EU traders next year, we have visibility of the current state of preparedness which as it stands has significant gaps.

"If these issues are not addressed disruption to UK business and the supply chain that we all rely so heavily on will be severely disrupted."

As many as 10,000 trucks pass through British ports each day, but the group warned the added risk of a potential second wave of coronavirus had increased the urgency to fix gaps in the system.

"The Covid pandemic has demonstrated to both Government and the general public the importance of a free-flowing supply chain, and with transition occurring at the same time as a potential second Covid spike it is critical we ensure the supply chain is protected," they added.

"Our concern is so strong that we have collectively agreed to request an urgent roundtable meeting with yourself, the chancellor of the exchequer and the secretary of state for transport.

"We are asking you to take seriously our concerns and listen to the detail during this roundtable so that we can collectively help government manage through this enormous challenge."

The plea comes after a leaked Cabinet Office memo warned ministers that the newly announced Border Operation Model, designed to prepare the UK's border for new customs procedures, would be "unmanageable" for hauliers in their current form.

The leaked document, seen by Bloomberg, flagged 13 key risks to the post-Brexit customs system, including a lack of contingency planning and the ongoing work to produce new IT systems just four months from the end of the transition period.

"There are up to 10 new systems that haulage firms and freight forwarders will have to navigate from Jan 1, including at least three being designed now," the letter said. "This is completely unnecessary and unmanageable with duplication and overlap".

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Roah Hualage Association, said the group had been forced to call for the meeting because ministers had been "simply too slow" in preparing the new systems.

"There are a range of critical issues the Chancellor, Michael Gove and the Transport Secretary need to address ranging from the SmartFreight app and other untried and untested IT systems, to the lack of customs agents and clear processes for tackling the mountain of red tape traders will face," he said.

"The Government’s pace is simply too slow on this, and that’s why we – the people who run the UK’s supply chain – need an urgent meeting with those at the top of Government dealing with Brexit preparations."

Responding to the letter, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The Border Operating Model sets out in significant detail the approach to UK border controls after the transition period. We worked closely with industry in its development and will continue to do so."

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