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Brexit: hurry up and wait

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Brexit: hurry up and waitIt’s been several months since the infamous Brexit vote and, so far, it’s still business as usual. The United Kingdom transport industry remains in a holding pattern, but behind the scenes most companies are preparing for change, says ASTRID DE LA REY

Earlier this year, the vote in favour of the United Kingdom (UK) splitting from the European Union (EU) caused a lot of hysteria, front page news, endless debates and a divided nation. Several months later, the panic appears to have died down, while the debates have moved on to Donald Trump’s hair.

While things may seem to have calmed down since the decision was made to leave the EU, the reality is that companies are systematically preparing for the changes ahead.

The problem is that the extent to which Brexit will affect the transport industry still can’t be put into a clear frame. It all depends on how the pound holds up on its own and the outcome of the multitude of trade negotiations taking place at government level. It’s still going to take a while before any major effects are felt across the industry.

One area where some freight companies have noticed a change is in vehicle parts. Pre-Brexit many fleet owners weren’t even aware that truck parts were being shipped in overnight from European countries.

Since the vote for Brexit, some owners have reported a noticeable delay in getting vehicle parts. There’s no new legislation, so the cause is probably Brexit-uncertainty from the supplier’s side. It seems that some suppliers are placing their focus on non-UK customers simply because they’re also unsure of the future of their UK clients.

It is expected that prices of UK vehicles and parts will go up, and this may be one of the first signs. DAF Trucks is the only truck manufacturer that produces parts in the UK, while all the other big players manufacture throughout Europe and Asia.

Depending on how the new trade negotiations turn out, the British transport industry expects to pay a fair amount more for vehicles and parts in the future. Again, nothing is yet set in stone, but everyone knows a change is coming and they’re preparing for it.

A shortage of British drivers, which has long been an underlying concern in the UK transport industry, has been brought to the forefront by Brexit. The majority of truck drivers in the UK are of East European origin. In the past it has been very convenient for UK transport companies to employ well-trained and experienced drivers from Europe.

Now that Brexit is a done deal, many companies will have to invest in training UK drivers instead. Several transport and logistics companies have already started this process and have extensive recruitment drives and training programmes in place.

In most areas, however, it is still a waiting game. As part of the EU, the UK transport sector falls under EU regulations in all major areas such as roadworthiness, driver’s hours, emissions regulations, noise pollution and safety standards. It’s highly unlikely that the UK will allow any leniency going forward and companies hoping for less stringent regulations will probably be sorely disappointed.

Stricter border controls – the biggest cost and cause of frustration – still has companies in the entire UK transport industry on the edge of their seats. It will be a while before there is any clarity on exactly what the changes will entail, but if things revert to pre-EU regulations it will have a huge impact. Border crossing will, once again, mean endless paperwork and extended waiting periods. Naturally, this will affect turnaround times as well as driver hours and logistics.

The consensus, however, seems to be that this will not be in the best interests of transporters from the EU or the UK. Most stakeholders agree that, while border crossing won’t be seamless, all stakeholders are interested in keeping it as simple as possible. Like most of the effects of Brexit, however, it will still be a while before there’s any clarity on how this will work.

It’s been several months since the Brexit vote and it’s clear that there are very few, if any, concrete changes in the UK transport industry. Most of the changes taking place are a result of the initiative of role players preparing for eventualities such as a driver shortage, vehicle price increases and extended time on the road, due to border crossings.

There’s no doubt that Brexit will have a big impact on the transport industry. Some of the changes will be positive and others a potential nightmare, but, as with any changes involving multi-country legislation, it is still very much a waiting game.

It will most likely be a good few years before the full impact of Brexit can be calculated. While this creates uncertainty, it does allow all players time to adapt as new regulations are gradually put into place. And that, at least, is a good thing.


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