With just over a month to go until prime minister Boris Johnson insists the UK will leave the EU deal or no deal the chief executive of the RHA Richard Burnett has told motortransport.co.uk that the government has failed to help the transport industry prepare for Brexit.

How the issue of the 177,000 trucks crossing the border every month between EU member the Republic of Ireland and the UK post-Brexit will be handled without the Irish backstop in place remains especially unclear.

“We still do not know what we are planning for on October 31,” he said. “Everything is still so uncertain.

“The government released more haulier guidance documents last week about transport between the UK and the EU in the event of no deal, and on the introduction states this guidance is for operators travelling to mainland Europe and separate guidance will be issued for commercial drivers travelling between the UK and Ireland.

“As it stands today we have no guidance. This isn't about hauliers being ready, it is about traders and businesses being ready and understanding the process so they can prepare the documents. The Chambers of Commerce have been reiterating that businesses are not ready because they don't know what the process is.

“Within the timeframe remaining it is going to be impossible to do.”

If free movement across the Irish border is interrupted it will cause huge problems for manufacturers and retailers.

“Retailers in Ireland have been used to a stockless environment and, if all of a sudden, they need to duplicate stock in Ireland there is no warehousing there,” said Burnett. “Deal or no-deal there has to be a transition. The government may be turbo-charging preparations and yes, it is far more focused than it has been, but we are miles away from being ready.”


Once the UK has left the EU we would be free to change the deeply unpopular cabotage regime which allows an EU truck to carry out three domestic jobs within seven days of entering the UK. The HGV Levy introduced in 2014 was intended to level the playing field between UK and non-UK vehicles, but with a charge of just £32 per week for a Euro-6 38- to 44-tonner it is hardly going to deter foreign operators.

The government has said that it will continue to allow EU operators to do cabotage in the UK. The most recent guidance said: “EU operators can carry out cabotage in the UK under current EU limits until advised otherwise.” There would have be a change in the law to reverse that decision so EU operators will have enough notice.

The number of cabotage jobs UK operators will be allowed to carry out in the EU after Brexit will gradually reduced, with two trips a week allowed for four months, one trip for the next three months and zero cabotage after seven months under the EU Commission contingency arrangement.

The reason suggested for the UK continuing to allow cabotage after Brexit is the fear that foreign operators will stop coming to the UK if they cannot do domestic work before they return to the continent.

“Something like 85% of our imports by road come in foreign registered vehicles,” said Burnett. “Depending on the EU position the UK government could withdraw cabotage straight away and what I think they are trying to work out is how will this play out in the event of no deal.

“We are having some fairly challenging conversations with the DfT about the music and events haulage sector where the exemptions are not providing sufficient clarity. You could say you are doing cabotage with music events if you are going from city to city in various countries and there is concern about over-zealous enforcement abroad. We could see more and more operators being stopped in France, Germany and Italy if they start taking a harder line.”

Labour shortage

Another big worry over a no-deal Brexit is the deepening labour shortage. There have been reports that only a fraction of the 2.27 million EU workers in the UK have received settled status allowing them to continue working after Brexit and if many Eastern European drivers and warehouse staff decide to head home after 31 October the skills shortage could worsen just in time for seasonal peak demand.

“In the event of no-deal I am worried about a continued exodus of EU workers from the UK the longer this goes on,” said Burnett. “The Polish ambassador has been trying to persuade Polish nationals to go back home and if that happens it is going to exacerbate the problem.

“Yellowhammer showed the government recognises they need to push driver training as quickly as possible because we have highlighted the risk that in the event of no-deal there could be a significant swing – and quickly.”

There are reports that agencies are now looking towards South East Asia for drivers but there are no guarantees they will be able to work legally in the UK.

“We are still trying to get the Home Office immigration team to accept that HGV driving should be classified as a skills shortage on the risk register,” says Burnett. “The new home secretary Priti Patel is taking a harder line on immigration and we having to build these relationships all over again. To have to go back over conversations we have already had with lots of previous minister is tiring and frustrating.”