As Brexit Day, the day in March 2019 when Britain leaves the European Union, draws ever closer so does the uncertainty about what Brexit will actually look like.
Will there be a hard Brexit, with no deal with the EU over trade, people movement and related issues? Or will there be a soft Brexit, leaving much of the existing customs-friendly and duty-free apparatus still in place?
There are already warnings in the British media of the dire consequence of a hard Brexit with reports of the British armed forces using helicopters and trucks to deliver food, medicine and fuel, while supermarkets have told suppliers to start stockpiling essential items including food.
German supermarket Aldi emailed suppliers in July saying it wanted to work with them “to help understand the potential implications,” according to Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper.
Coffee supplier Giles Hurley said he was thinking of storing six to eight weeks’ stock. “Most of the major retailers have been asking their suppliers how they are planning for the implications of Brexit – and especially how we are planning to ensure we do not run out of the goods we bring in from the EU,” Hurley was quoted as saying.
British prime minister Theresa May did not deny stockpiling is taking place, while Brexit chief Dominic Raab insisted there would be adequate food supplies.
That comes amid concern a hard Brexit would cause trade chaos from 30 March 2019. With Britain out of the EU and no trade and related border and customs agreements in place, there are fears ports would grind to a halt as Customs inspected each consignment.
If there are no trade and customs deals in place, Britain will revert to using World Trade Organisation rules on trade, meaning every shipment from continental Europe would be checked by Customs instead on being largely waived through under current EU rules.
The UK government has also announced plans to convert four lanes of the M20 motorway, which links Folkestone on the Kent coast near Dover with the M25 orbital motorway, into a 20 km long truck park as a short-term response to the possible traffic gridlock at Dover and its surrounding area.
However, this temporary measure could last a few years because “a permanent solution will not be in place for many years if enacted through current planning processes and procedures,” according to an impact assessment by Dover District Council released on 31 July.
The council was critical of the new measures, called Operation Brock, because of the slow pace of creating the ‘temporary’ scheme and because “there does not appear to be a Plan B,” according to the report.
Confirming the timetable, a separate report by Kent County Council, the government authority for Kent, said a planning application for a permanent lorry park will not be considered until next year “and will not be delivered until 2023 at the earliest”.
While much of the Brexit outcome remains fogged, the British government has at least taken steps to ease cross-border trucking, passing new legislation on 19 July to ensure it has the powers to support British hauliers operating internationally.
The haulage and trailer registration act allows the British government to create a permit system for cross-border trailers that will be open for registration later this year.
The scheme will allow UK trailer users to meet the registration standards outlined in the 1968 Vienna Convention, ensuring UK operators driving on the continent can comply with the requirements of those EU countries which require the registration of all trailers travelling on their roads.
British transport chief Chris Grayling said, “These powers give us the flexibility to have systems in place if a permit system is required and provides reassurance for hauliers to continue planning for a smooth EU exit.”
At least if British truckers do have to wait weeks to cross the English Channel, forcing troops to distribute food and other essential supplies, their trailers will be properly registered for EU roads.