We as a nation have had more than two years to begin adjusting to the idea of leaving the EU, not as a hypothetical event, but as an impending reality.
Taking Britain out of the European Union will be a tremendous change affecting every aspect of life, and we've certainly gotten used to hearing our politicians debate every aspect of the change. Though the political picture remains uncertain, Brexit is already causing real-world changes. In many industries, businesses are already facing points of permanent change, even though the actual exit from the EU hasn't happened yet.
Talk of Brexit tends to focus on the amount of uncertainty our future suddenly holds. Uncertainty is bad for business in many industries; for the haulage industry especially, it's absolutely toxic. There is no firm information about what deals - if any - we will be able to strike with the Union following Brexit. Haulage firms are positively gutted by this lack of information. They cannot price out their services past March 2019 or even answer their customers' most basic questions. Brexit could alter taxes, trade routes, customs duties, and a host of other factors that dramatically affect haulage. It is impossible to predict how leaving the EU will alter the capabilities and pricing offered by UK haulage firms such as TheLGVTrainingCompany.co.uk.
The Freight Transport Association, or FTA, brought up the tremendous effect Brexit could have on UK trade relatively early in the march toward leaving the Union. The FTA even submitted a 'Keep Britain Trading' report to the government detailing steps that could help stabilise trade in the aftermath of Brexit.
The prospects do not look good. The FTA's deputy chief executive, James Hookham, notes that we have seen no progress on any of the eight demands listed in the Association's report. Brexit ministers have effectively ignored all of the input and advice offered by haulage experts. Mr Hookham also notes that there are 43,000 HGV drivers in the UK who are citizens of a different Union country. There is no policy in place that safeguards their continued employment by UK haulage firms after Brexit.
The employment picture in the haulage industry is especially troubling. The UK already faces a chronic shortage of qualified HGV drivers. Although the industry takes in 20,000 new drivers every year, it also maintains a persistent deficit of more than 50,000 drivers. This shortage has persisted for more than five years despite significant efforts to recruit more drivers. The worst-case scenario for Brexit could force the UK to abandon another 43,000 haulage drivers, doubling the skills shortage. Worsening this crisis threatens to cause a collapse in the vital trade infrastructure supporting UK commerce.
The haulage industry is not alone in identifying significant infrastructure problems caused by Brexit. Examining the issues in greater detail simply uncovers further problems. Even very minor changes in the way UK lorries cross borders could translate into significant issues. If customs paperwork at Dover adds just two minutes to the time it takes to for a lorry to leave the country, the cumulative slowdown in traffic could create tailbacks stretching over 17 miles. Qualifications issues could cause significant problems for all HGV drivers. If UK driving licenses are no longer valid in the EU, hundreds of thousands of professional drivers would have to seek new qualifications or simply give up the idea of working in the union.
The problems facing the haulage industry due to Brexit are very real, and the coming months will almost certainly increase their severity. We fervently hope that a greater degree of cooperation between the government and the FTA will lead to a workable trade deal prior to the big date itself. A viable post-Brexit roadmap for the haulage industry is positively vital if Britain is going to continue trading after it leaves the EU.