With Brexit making daily headlines, the Irish border problem is recognised as one of particular importance and complexity. With the UK’s exit from the single market and the customs union on the horizon, the impact of a possible return to a ‘hard border’ on the haulage industry is worrying those involved in delivery work. |
The Current Situation
Thanks to the Good Friday Agreement there are no security stops or checks along the 500km borderline between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Goods pass freely along the 250 roads which run through the boundary, making trade easy.
In a recent paper, the UK government declared that they wanted to avoid a return to a ‘hard border’ for the movement of goods. This has led to speculations about how a so-called ‘soft border’ would be achieved.
There will probably be many changes to regulations which will affect delivery work in Northern Ireland. Firstly, key roads crossing the boundary could be monitored. Using current EU law as a guide, hauliers can expect about 6% - 8% of goods to be examined - about 600 lorries per day. It is also likely that each consignment would need its own paperwork for customs once the UK has left the customs union.
Impact on the Industry
Operators taking on just-in-time delivery work or an overnight service will be affected by the potential delays and time restrictions on crossing from the UK to the EU.
Due to an inevitable increase in paperwork there will be added costs for all involved in delivery work. Businesses will have to spend on new IT services and administrative staff to handle the data.
Seamus Leheny, policy and membership manager at FTA in NI, pointed out that delays cost money: “The running costs for a 44-tonne lorry [...] is £1 a minute, and those costs have to be covered by someone.”
There has been concern over whether the government’s goals are realistic. Stephen Kelly, CEO of Manufacturing NI, said that it is ‘inevitable’ that there will be ‘a move away from enjoying a free movement of goods across the border’.
People like James Allen, MD of Allen logistics, are concerned for the future of their businesses. Allen says that any restrictions on movement of goods could damage his company, declaring that “there needs to be unrestricted travel 24/7 to make our business model viable”.
Some operators based in Northern Ireland are planning to head over the border to protect their business. However, there are some in the industry who think that a viable border solution will be found. One suggestion is to give goods produced in Northern Ireland special status through a certificate of origin; another is to track freight digitally through pre-registration and security cameras. Unfortunately, Vincent Waddell, MD of Surefreight, echoed many when he said: “I can’t grasp that anything short of stopping at a border is going to be acceptable to the EU.” It’s possible that the Irish border will look very different in a few years’ time. Whatever the UK government and the EU decide on, the haulage industry should be braced for change.
Norman Dulwich is a Correspondent for Haulage Exchange, the leading online trade network for the road transport industry. Connecting logistics professionals across the UK and Europe through their website, Haulage Exchange provides services for matching delivery work with available drivers. Over 4,500 transport exchange businesses are networked together through their website, trading jobs and capacity in a safe 'wholesale' environment.
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