The problem of lorries queueing to bring goods into the UK post Brexit might be solved by customs officials “lifting the gate” and allowing them through regardless of whether they have the correct documents, a conference was told.
John Glen, CIPS economist and visiting fellow at Cranfield School of Management, said the UK needed 50,000 customs clearance administrators to deal with red tape once the country leaves the EU on 1 January 2021. “We are nowhere near that target,” he said.
Speaking at the CIPS Conference 2020, Glen said the government was working to a worst-case scenario of 7,000 trucks queueing in Kent to cross the border. “Your lorry will be in that queue for up to two days,” he said.
“The good news is the experts in the field – none of them will admit to saying this – think that on the import side the way they will resolve the problem is literally just lifting the gate and allowing the goods to come in whether they’ve got effective clearance or not.”
Glen said because of previous false starts, firms were complacent about the latest Brexit date. “Business is not ready,” he said.
“Even if we have a free trade agreement with the EU, you still have to fill in customs clearance documents. There is no free trade agreement on the planet where you don’t have to fill in customs clearance documents, except perversely the European Union, which we are just leaving.”
During a discussion on the economic outlook, Glen said assuming the virus was brought under control with a vaccine next year, the UK was looking at a date in 2022-23 for a return to pre-pandemic economic activity.
He warned against firms extending payment times in response to economic hardship. “That means you are banking with your supply chain and that’s a very dangerous thing to do if you are driving your suppliers out of business.”
Peter Munckton, chief economist and head of market strategy at the Bank of Queensland, said Asian economies – notably China and Taiwan – had recovered from the pandemic faster despite being densely populated with ageing populations because of three factors: effective test, track and trace systems; wider use of face masks; and more compliance with government rules.
He said it would be six to 12 months before populations got vaccinated, and in 12-18 months “hopefully we’re past this”.
However, both he and Glen agreed underlying economic challenges remained around the “productivity gap”.
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