NI-GB supply chain 'one boat breakdown' from collapse

11 January 2021

Hauliers have warned the supply chain between Northern Ireland (NI) and Great Britain is “one boat breakdown” away from disaster due to Brexit.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) said the supply chain between NI and GB is “one storm/ Covid event/ boat breakdown” away from collapse because of the post-Brexit regulatory environment.

In a letter seen by Reuters, the trade body said some sectors were “struggling enormously” with the new, complex rules which were introduced with insufficient capacity and little training and implementation time.

Under the Brexit deal, NI must apply EU customs rules at its ports.

The RHA reportedly said raw material supply lines from Britain had also been restricted due to the regulatory changes and factories had already reported serious supply chain issues, including failures to supply retail contracts.

Last week, a parliamentary committee was told NI will face food supply “hardships” in the coming weeks as a result of the Brexit customs procedures.

A poll of 32 hauliers carried out in December found 75% expected increased border waiting times to be the biggest impact of Brexit, followed by increased time spent on admin (66%) and higher tariffs on goods (50%).

The survey, by Haulage Exchange, found 21% had lost business and 15% had made redundancies. 

Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office (CO) said while the number of hauliers crossing the border had been relatively low since 1 January, “increased flows have the potential to cause significant disruption” if firms fail to secure the correct documentation.

Since 1 January the flow of lorries heading through Kent to the EU-GB border was 1,584, around 40% of the usual number. 

The CO said compliance with the new rules had been “relatively high” with around 700 lorries turned away from the border since the end of the transition period. The majority of rejections were based on hauliers not proviging a negative Covid test, it said. 

It added there was also strong compliance with the requirement to obtain a Kent Access Permit, known as a “Kermit”, with 18,000 issued in total so far.

The combination of low traffic and good compliance “kept disruption at the border to a minimum” it said. 

But the CO warned that the volume of HGV traffic was steadily increasing by around 20% each day and predicted that volumes could increase to 5,000-6,000 within days, making border and trader readiness “critical”. 

Exporters now must provide documentation to hauliers, including export declarations and certificates required for products like plant and animal products.

Michael Gove, CO minister, said: “The preparations [hauliers] have made have paid dividends and disruption has been minimal so far, but the real challenge and potential for significant disruption starts next week when we expect that the number of lorries heading to the border may return to normal levels.”

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