Trade associations have criticised the no deal Brexit papers published today, accusing the contingency plans of falling far short of what would be required to keep Britain trading.

The FTA, RHA and British International Freight Association (BIFA) said that the papers essentially confirmed much of what was known without providing the level of detail road transport operators require to plan for such an outcome.

Robert Keen, director general at BIFA, said: "As most of the visible trade that takes place between the EU and the UK is managed by freight forwarders and logistics professionals on behalf of traders, some of the content of the information could be considered rather patronising as those freight forwarders are already aware of many of the issues of concern to businesses trading with the EU in the event of no deal.

"What BIFA members actually need is clarity on the arrangements that will be in place in the event of a no deal scenario.

"How will we deal with a massive increase in the customs entries that will be required in the event of a no deal; where will we source the huge number of extra staff that may be required to process such a large increase in entries on a new and as yet unproven computer system; where will HMRC source the extra staff that will be needed to process entries and expedite their training which would normally take up to one year; how do we deal with large increase in costs that our customers are unlikely to be expecting and might be unwilling to accept?

"These are just a few of the additional questions that today's government statement, which suggests that in a no deal scenario full-blown customs controls will apply to two-way trade between the EU and the UK immediately, do not answer," Keen said.

Trading places

The FTA said in a statement that business still needed detailed information to ensure that the nation continues to trade efficiently after Brexit.

"Whilst today's papers provide some welcome advice on how to prepare contingency plans, more information is needed both in terms of the level of detail and the areas covered, eg on market access for road haulage and air freight.

"More importantly, logistics businesses need workable solutions to aim higher than damage control, and to keep Britain trading."

Sarah Laouadi, FTA European policy manager, expanded on this. "No deal would be disastrous for logistics. While preparing for every eventuality, including a no deal position, is a sound strategy, it should not be the end game which negotiators accept.

"There are clear problems which could face our supply chain if agreements cannot be reached including customs and border arrangements, the continuity of trade agreements and vehicle permits, as well as the continuation of business access to EU workers. Solutions for these areas are key to the continued success of British business, both at home and abroad, after 29 March 2019," she said.

The RHA has said a no-deal will be “a disaster”, which would see “within a short period of time the Garden of England becoming the UK’s biggest lorry park”, pointing to expected delays at ports such as Dover.

In a statement it said: “The RHA is disappointed that despite its pleas for Brexit clarity, none has been forthcoming, and today’s announcements present nothing new.

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"The RHA has met with government ministers on many occasions to discuss the needs of UK transport operators and has stressed that the only way to maintain economic links on both sides of the Channel is to continue with the process of free-flowing borders.

If that’s not going to be the case, then a no-deal Brexit will be little more than a nail in the coffin of the industry responsible for moving 98% of the UK economy."

Duck and cover

Meanwhile, broker ParcelHero have said that the advice papers “are the equivalent of duck and cover nuclear warnings”.

ParcelHero’s head of consumer research, David Jinks MILT, said: “If the government thought its first batch of 25 documents advising businesses and individuals how to plan for the event of us leaving the EU without a deal would reassure people, they are mistaken.

“The advice that people and businesses shipping items to the EU should ‘engage the services of a customs broker, freight forwarder or logistics provider to help, or alternatively secure the appropriate software and authorisations.’ is reminiscent of government advice to ‘use tables if they are large enough to provide you all with shelter’ from 1980’s Protect and Survive government booklet.”

ParcelHero, who arrange shipments across the EU are especially concerned with how border controls will impact order delays.

Brexit stamp

Jinks said: “The technical notice’s assertion that the government will have stockpiled six weeks’ worth of medical supplies to cope with border disruption simply creates more worries than it calms.

"If that’s the level of delays anticipated for urgent medicines, what will the situation be like for normal goods? If individuals and SMEs are simply planning to send a parcel to the EU, or expecting a parcel collection from the Continent, we can get a picture of the real delays anticipated.”

The government has stated that it remains optimistic of striking a deal.

“A scenario in which the UK leaves the EU without agreement (a no deal scenario) remains unlikely given the mutual interests of the UK and EU in securing a negotiated outcome.

"Negotiations are progressing well and both we and the EU continue to work hard to seek a positive deal. However, it is our duty as a responsible government to prepare for all eventualities, including no deal, until we can be certain of the outcome of those negotiations,” it said.