FTA chief executive David Wells fears the government may try to blame the haulage industry for “failing to plan” for a no-deal Brexit in the event of subsequent road transport disruption.

He said that the organisation is doing all it can to avoid significant issues post Brexit and is stepping up pressure on the government to address a range of “big concerns”.

In particular, Wells has urged the government to relax financial rules on O-licence applications for smaller operators.

“Let’s say there’s a massive queue at Dover and a big supply chain issue,” he told motortransport.co.uk. “I fear the industry will be blamed - that we’ll be set up.”

Wells also admitted many of his members hadn’t done enough to plan for a no deal because “the political uncertainty has left a situation where nobody is sure if it is going to happen – there’s not a lot of clarity on what you need to do.”

However, he insisted he writes to cabinet minister Michael Gove, who is heading Brexit preparations, on a weekly basis with a list of outstanding issues relating to a no-deal Brexit.

“Each one is marked either red, green or amber,” he explained. “Red means they’ve done nothing, amber means they’re looking at it, green means they’ve made a decision.

"It's been well received by government. The reds are turning to ambers but we want to see ambers turning to green. I don’t want the industry to be blamed for a failure to plan or not having enough time. That wouldn’t be fair. I'm trying to make sure I've done my level best for the industry."

Wells said a no-deal Brexit would present “a real risk to small operators” and was calling on the government to make special allowances.

“The industry operates on such thin margins that working capital is really important,” he said. “If you’re sat at Dover for two days, with a load you can’t deliver, your profitability is affected - and it’s a cash flow issue because you haven’t delivered the product on time. There’ll be a query over the invoice.

“We have gone to the traffic commissioners and the DfT and told them they need to think about the financial standing of smaller operators and the government are minded to do that.

“You have to meet financial requirements when applying for your O-licence and you're not going to meet those measures. We’re saying the government needs to relax those. The last thing we want is people going out of business."

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In a further development, Wells revealed he had met with MPs last week and discussed plans to "separate trucks into blocks" following a no deal to help alleviate any problems.

"The government are seeing if they can get certain groups through quickly," he said. "They’re creating pop-ups where they’re looking at border readiness. It's no good the government saying the industry isn't ready, they need to help them get ready. They need to be proactive. So the government are trying to minimise the likelihood of long delays. They’re well aware of the impact on the supply chain.

“There’s a lot of concern out there and it’s across the board – and also for the larger organisations where it’s about the complexity of what they do."

The Brexit deadline “couldn’t have come at a worst time", Wells concluded.

"Warehouses are mainly full at the end of October ready for Christmas so space is at a premium. And I have a real genuine fear that many people in the trade will say ‘hang on, I stockpiled at the end of March, I tied up all my working capital, it cost me a load of money and it didn’t happen. Why would I believe you this time?’"

Asked what his advice to members was as the 31 October deadline looms, Wells said: "Prepare for it. Look at your inventories, look at your supply chains, make sure you’ve got what you need to get across the border. Plan for the worst and understand what you need to do.

"At this moment, there might be a deal. But if we’ve done all this work and turned all the reds to greens and it’s a non-event then happy days."

Meanwhile, press reports yesterday (25 September) quoted Gove as saying: “It is the case that the automotive sector, whom I met earlier this week, confirmed that they were ready [for Brexit]. The retail sector confirmed that they are ready. Ninety per cent of the companies measured by value that trade with the EU also trade with companies outside the EU, they are in a position to be ready.”