Hauliers in Northern Ireland said they had become “deeply concerned” by the lack of government engagement about how trade will continue between their country and mainland UK after Brexit.

With less than seven months until the current Brexit transition period ends, the FTA and other business groups told the House of Lords Select Committee this week that the government must engage with the industry so that it can prepare for the UK’s departure from the EU.

The Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group (NIBBWG) published a report in response to the UK government’s proposals for a light touch approach and unfettered access for NI to GB movement of goods to be in force by 1 January 2021.

In its report, the NIBBWG said the government urgently needed to set out how its protocol was going to be achieved: “There is a risk of being caught outside the edge of both the GB and the EU markets unless the definitions of ‘unfettered access’ and ‘NI qualifying goods’ are handled very carefully and based on evidence,” it said.

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The FTA said whatever Brexit agreement was finally reached, there needed to be an implementation period so that haulage firms could adopt and adapt to the new trading practices with the EU.

Seamus Leheny, FTA policy manager for Northern Ireland, said: “With the Covid-19 pandemic monopolising the industry’s attention, and following Stormont’s calls for an extension to the Brexit transition period, FTA is requesting an implementation period once an agreement has been reached between the EU and UK, in which all necessary preparations for EU departure can be made.

“Businesses need clarity on the new trading agreement so they can prepare effectively for the massive changes that will undoubtedly come.”

Aodhán Connolly, director at the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said both governments needed to educate all businesses about what the protocol implementation means in practice: “The overarching finding of the report is that while progress has been made and the ambitions of the UK government are laudable, there is a need for technical detail to allow business to prepare for the changes that will come into force on 1 January 2021 and that detail needs to come now,” he said.