Widening UK-EU rift threatens to break ever more fragile supply chain

The UK’s fractious relationship with the European Union continued to deteriorate this week and there have been dire warnings that the country’s supply chain issues will only deepen, writes Jon Guy.

The latter part of the week has been punctuated with threats and counter threats as the UK threatens to trigger Article 16 over the continued impasse over the treatment of Northern Ireland. It has prompted a no nonsense response from European leaders who have said should Article 16 be triggered the reaction would be “robust”.

It adds to the concerns over the UK’s supply chain and those concerns have only been heightened by dire predictions from the country’s leading logistics organisation.

In evidence to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into the road freight supply chain, Elizabeth de Jong, Director of Policy at business group Logistics UK, warned that new rules to be implemented in April have the potential to see 17 mile tailbacks into the UK’s ports for goods being exported to the EU.

Under the new rules lorry drivers will be required to undergo biometric checks to enter the Schengen Area, with French authorities making the checks at ports such as Dover and Folkstone.

“Logistics UK is also pressing government to address the EU’s proposed Entry Exit System (EES), which would see the introduction of new customs checks at the borders of Dover and Folkestone,” she told MPs. “These new rules could cause delays to supply chain operations at borders, while compromising the safety of drivers, as they would be required to exit their vehicles to undertake the checks.”

De Jong added the hope was that “pragmatic negotiations” take place which result in lorry drivers being able to stay in their cabs.

Forcing drivers to leave their vehicles “takes up a lot of time and also leads to security issues for the loads and for migrants”, she said. “An increase in two minutes processing for each lorry would lead to a 17-mile delay at the Dover border.”

Quite apart from the new checks the UK’s logistic sector had other pressures said de Jong.

“The road freight supply chain is facing many challenges and opportunities, including the ongoing shortage of HGV drivers, a patchwork of local urban regulations, and the need to decarbonise operations efficiently,” she explained. “The lack of available lorry parking facilities nationwide is a key contributor to the HGV driver shortage. Many commercial drivers are forced to take their rest periods in their vehicles at the side of the road or on industrial estates, with no access to hygiene facilities. This is preventing individuals – particularly women, who only make up 2% of HGV drivers – from remaining in or wanting to join the workforce.”

In evidence to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into the road freight supply chain, Elizabeth de Jong, Director of Policy at business group Logistics UK warned new rules to be implemented in April have the potential to see 17 mile tailbacks into the UK’s ports for goods being exported to the EU.

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