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Foreign haulage operators could be allowed to make an unlimited number of trips in the UK within a two-week period before returning home, under plans to strengthen supply chains and save Christmas.

The proposals to temporarily extend cabotage rights for foreign firms are set out in a week-long consultation that has been launched and would apply to all types of goods, but is likely to be particularly beneficial to food supply chains and freight coming into the country via ports.

However, the RHA has criticised the move and said it could mean British hauliers lose work to cheaper EU rivals.

The measure would last for six months and would allow foreign operators to pick up and drop off goods as many times as they like for two weeks before they leave the country.

The plan is the latest in a string of measures the government is relying on to address a current shortage of HGV drivers and ensure that supplies to supermarkets and shops are not disrupted in the run-up to Christmas.

Grant Shapps, transport secretary, said: “The long-term answer to the supply chain issues we’re currently experiencing must be developing a high-skill, high-wage economy here in the UK.

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“The temporary changes we’re consulting on to cabotage rules will also make sure foreign hauliers in the UK can use their time effectively and get more goods moving in the supply chain at a time of high demand.”

But Rod McKenzie, RHA managing director of policy, said the members he had spoken to were “appalled” at the proposal.

He said: “I think the government clearly wants to save Christmas and to be seen to be saving Christmas and extra drivers will clearly help Christmas deliveries.

“But there are consequences for hardworking UK hauliers who are suffering under a weight of staff shortages, poor roadside facilities, ridiculous waiting times to load and unload and this simply doesn’t help UK haulage.

“We don’t want cabotage to sabotage our industry.”

Added Elizabeth de Jong, director of policy at Logistics UK: “While the government’s cabotage proposals may help to mitigate the impact the shortage of HGV drivers is having on the UK economy, the measures must be time-limited to ensure this competition from EU businesses has a minimal impact on British haulage companies. This must be a short-term measure to support the economy while British drivers are recruited, trained and tested.”

The consultation can be found here: