Responding to recent developments including a key speech by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Greenwich, the British Ports Association (BPA) has called on the Government to clarify its mixed messages on trade.

Speaking about a future trading relationship with the EU, the Prime Minister said a choice has been made: “we want a comprehensive free trade agreement, similar to Canada’s”.

However, Canada’s trading relationship with the EU is a free trade agreement (FTA) and includes some measure of alignment, while the Prime Minister went on to suggest that the UK is not seeking “alignment of any kind”.

BPA Chief Executive Richard Ballantyne called for a clear and detailed statement on the Government’s positive vision for UK trade and industrial strategy – with Europe and the world.

“It is now almost inevitable that the promise of continued “frictionless trade” will not be met,” he went on. “UK ports have been preparing for disruption for three and a half years and are as ready as they can be. However, we remain concerned at the readiness of the wider freight industry and the capacity of the multitude of Government agencies that operate at the border.”

His concerns were echoed by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) with chief executive Richard Burnett complaining that officials have still failed to commit to a deadline to provide the promised operating model for customs processes.

In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, he said: “We need HMRC to clearly define the process so that we can understand how many customs agents will be required to support traders and hauliers.”

Mr Burnett warned that there could still be a huge shortfall of trained agents after transition as the costs of employing new staff without a revenue stream until 2021 would be impossible for many firms.

The UK and Ireland’s largest union has joined the chorus of those demanding more clarity with Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner noting that the disclosure by Cabinet Minister Michael Gove, that frictionless trade will cease at the end of this year, will place jobs on the line.

The likely introduction of tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade will add cost, delay supply and slow down production, he concluded.

Last reviewed 13 February 2020