Last reviewed 1 June 2020

We reported in April that the head of the British International Freight Association (BIFA) believed that the current UK-EU transition period would be extended when the talks reached the June deadline as so little progress has been made (see Trade body argues that Brexit will be delayed).

Now Director General Robert Keen has returned to the debate armed with the results of a survey showing that 72% of 400 BIFA member companies questioned support calls for an extension.

These are all companies actively involved in day-to-day management of the UK’s visible imports and exports, he pointed out, and they are not making a political point: they understand that the UK has left the EU.

However, he went on: “It is a clear message to Government that BIFA members and the clients that they serve have great reservations over whether they will have the capacity to handle the major changes to the UK’s trading relationship at the start of 2021, such as new customs documentation and procedures.”

With no extension to the transition period, 50% of respondents felt they would not have sufficient staff to undertake the additional Customs-related work that will be required from 1 January 2021, whilst 60% felt they would not have time for comprehensive training of new recruits.

“With very little progress to date on key negotiating points in the formal talks and with many of the civil service resources previously assigned to support negotiations reallocated to deal with the coronavirus emergency response,” Mr Keen said, “it would be very risky and unwise not to seek an extension.”

On a related point, BIFA recently wrote to the Parliamentary Committee responsible for the UK’s future relationship with the EU noting that it had heard that the Government is planning a new customs academy in Kent.

It expressed its surprise that, as the trade association representing companies that undertake a large proportion of the UK’s customs entries and as the largest provider of Customs training services, it had not been invited to participate in any substantive talks about such an academy.