Almost three quarters of freight forwarders are calling for the Brexit transition period to be extended if no trade deal is agreed with the EU.

Another 50% are warning that they will not have enough staff to cope with the additional Customs-related work that a no-deal Brexit will bring.

A survey of over 400 members of the British International Freight Association (BIFA) revealed widespread concern in the sector at the government’s insistence that there will be no extension of the Brexit transition deadline, currently set for 1 January 2021.

BIFA director general Robert Keen said: “When 72% of the 400 BIFA member companies which completed the survey, and are actively involved day-to-day in managing the UK’s visible imports and exports, call for an extension of the transition period, we can only hope that the Government will be listening.”

He added: “This is not a political comment from our members. They are a pragmatic group. They understand that the UK has left the EU.

“It is a clear message to Government that BIFA members and the clients that they serve have great reservations over whether they will have the capacity to handle the major changes to the UK’s trading relationship at the start of 2021, such as new customs documentation and procedures.”

The survey revealed concerns regarding the recruitment of staff qualified and experienced in Customs procedures and the lack of available time to train them.

With no extension to the transition period, 50% of respondents said they would not have sufficient staff to undertake the additional Customs-related work required from 1 January 2021, whilst 60% said they would not have time to properly train new recruits.

The survey follows BIFA’s recent letter to the Brexit parliamentary committee which raised concerns over what it claimed were “potentially misleading and ambiguous comments” from politicians and government regarding Customs matters.

In the letter, BIFA, which represents companies undertaking a large proportion of the UK’s customs entries, noted it had not been informed of government plans for a new customs academy in Kent.

Keen added: “Sadly, it is a further example of the lack of meaningful consultation with UK trade regarding the policies and procedures required in order to ensure that trade with the EU can continue relatively uninterrupted post December 31st 2020.

“With very little progress to date on key negotiating points in the formal talks and with many of the civil service resources previously assigned to support negotiations reallocated to deal with the coronavirus emergency response, it would be very risky and unwise not to seek an extension.

“Even before the pandemic, our members were concerned that the 11-month transition wouldn’t leave enough time to prepare for a potential no deal. Having had their businesses affected badly by the effects of the pandemic, I really do wonder whether they, and the clients they serve, will have the capacity to increase readiness for a sharp change in trading practices and conditions from the start of next year.”