Europa Worldwide Group chief executive Andrew Baxter (pictured), who terminated his company’s membership of the RHA in October after slamming its handling of the petrol pump crisis and Brexit, has welcomed the departure of RHA chief executive Richard Burnett.

Speaking to MT, Baxter said he hoped that Burnett’s departure last week would end what he described as “a period at the RHA where instead of working constructively with government to shape government policy there was a tendency to jump to the media and shadow box - which just alienated people in government”.

Baxter published an open letter in October in which he launched a vociferous attack on the RHA and called for Burnett’s resignation.

The letter was prompted by the association’s very public clash with government over claims it had caused the petrol pump crisis by leaking confidential information on BP’s decision to close some fuel stations – a claim vehemently denied by RHA. The row saw Transport Minister Grant Shapps cut off communication with the association.

Speaking after Burnett’s resignation last week, Baxter said: “I hope RHA has a more constructive relationship with the government going forward and becomes an effective pressure group which can help shape government policy in the interest of our sector. It is not all about being on the Today programme.”

He added: “ I hope the RHA now gets on quietly to achieve that. It must not sacrifice influence for profile. The number one thing it needs to do is influence policy.

“We deserve an effective pressure group, not one known for picking fights to get on TV. That does not get results. RHA needs to stand up for hauliers. Going on TV may raise the industry’s profile but it just ends up winding up people in government.”

Baxter denied that his standing as a Conservative Party donor had influenced his opposition to Burnett. A keen Brexiteer, he hosted Boris Johnson at Europa headquarters during his Brexit campaign and sported pro-Brexit livery on his trucks ahead of the referendum.

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He countered: “I am not part of a campaign to get rid of Richard Burnett. My views are the result of witnessing a sustained period of time where RHA behaved destructively and irresponsibly.”

He added: “If there was a Labour Government in place I would be saying the same thing. RHA’s job is to influence government, not antagonise it.”

Asked if he would consider re-joining the RHA, Baxter said: “If the RHA can build a constructive relationship with government then I will be more than happy to re-join.”

Some hauliers refuted Baxter’s claims this week. Steve Bowles, MD of Roy Bowles Transport near Heathrow, said: “I think the gentleman from Europa is quite wrong. Richard Burnett has done a stunning job for the RHA. He fought our corner with the government so well and I am really very sad to see him go.

“He did an amazing job in what has been a terrible time for the haulage industry. He really raised the profile of RHA and worked really well with government, who listened to him a lot and acted on what he said accordingly. RHA is so much better for all his hard work. I cannot say how sad I am to see him leave.”

Another leading haulage director, who declined to be named, added: “The job of any industry body is to antagonise the government. I think Richard Burnett had a lot more to contend with than ever before, with Brexit and then Covid.

“Andrew Baxter was quite critical in his open letter about the lack of information provided to hauliers on Brexit by RHA but that was because the government did not know what they would do. They did not have a clue. No one did. Neither Brexit nor Covid had a script so I think Richard did everything he possibly could do under very difficult circumstances. He also pushed very, very hard on the driver shortage crisis. No one could have done a better job.”

RHA declined to comment.