Lorries on Highway

Following the recent passing of legislation which effectively laid the groundwork for a system of haulage permits in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the government’s proposals have now been laid out in full. A Department of Transport paper, published last month, sets out a lottery-style system which would be used to allocate the limited number of international haulage permits if Britain ends up leaving the European Union without a deal.

Under a no-deal Brexit, freight and haulage companies will require ECMT (European Conference of Ministers of Transport) permits for their vehicles to operate within the EU zone. The problem with this scenario is that the total number of permits available through the scheme is extremely limited – according to estimates by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) the number of available permits amounts to only around 5% of the total that would be required to accommodate the UK’s existing haulage businesses.

The paper reveals that a number of criteria will be taken into account when assessing applications for ECMT permits from hauliers, including vehicle emissions levels, the number of international journeys made in the prior 12 months, the proportion of haulage journeys that are international, and the types of goods carried. However, as the government expects to receive more applications than there will be permits available, there will also be “an element of random selection”.

The Department for Trade has said that utilising a weighted random element in the scoring of applications should help ensure that it will not only be the largest, highest-scoring operators who will be able to qualify for permits, but that smaller and medium-sized haulage businesses will also have a fair chance of receiving an allocation. The paper estimates that “around four times as many operators will receive permits if an element of weighted random selection is included”.

Industry Reaction

In a statement, the RHA said that international hauliers “cannot be expected to maintain the flow of exports to the rest of Europe if their livelihoods depend on what is, in effect, a lottery system for permits”. RHA chief executive, Richard Burnett, said: “Many thousands of UK businesses depend on a reliable transport system to get their goods across the Channel and into Europe as quickly as possible … This latest suggestion is, at best, farcical. The effectiveness of the supply chain relies on planning. But how can the operators of 38,000 trucks possibly make plans when there will only be 1,224 permits to go around?”

The Federation of Small Businesses also expressed concerns that the ECMT lottery system could be damaging for UK businesses: “So far, the government has released three tranches of information that really hit home the message that a chaotic no-deal Brexit will be damaging and dangerous for our small firms. Many smaller firms rely on hauliers for delivering goods across the EU and for bringing goods in. A no-deal Brexit could pose a real threat to these businesses as EU community licences issued by the UK might not be automatically recognised by the EU and the fall-back permit option (ECMT), by the government’s admission, are too small in number to compensate.”

Labour MP Daniel Zeichner, the former shadow transport minister, also commented: “This is yet another sector where Brexit is threatening absolute chaos. If haulage permits become a lottery to get hold of, I don’t think anyone will be thankful to have to wait longer for their new phone or to find their supermarket delivery doesn’t have half the things they ordered in it because they’re stuck in Calais.”

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