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Alan McKinnon – Professor of Logistics

THE 
LOGISTICS BLOG

Current issues in logistics and transport

Prioritising the flow of empty trucks: another Brexit anomaly

The Financial Times has just revealed an ‘official sensitive’ UK government plan to ‘fast-track’ the return of empty lorries going back to the European mainland via the Dover Straits to collect food for UK supermarkets.  As these vehicles have no products onboard they are not subject to the new post-Brexit customs paperwork and checks.  The government is clearly afraid that when the anticipated truck queues build up on access roads to Dover over the next few weeks, there will be a shortage of vehicles to bring EU-sourced food into the country.  Given the length of the delays on this route last month, many hauliers are naturally reluctant to risk tying up their valuable assets for many hours, if not days, in motorway tail-backs and holding areas.

So far this month truck traffic on the cross-Channel routes has been flowing relatively smoothly but this is unlikely to continue for much longer.   Traffic volumes have been more than 50% below normal for this time of year – mainly for three reasons.  First, fearing severe disruption in the days immediately following the end of Britain’s Brexit transition period on December 31st, many companies on both sides of the Channel have been stockpiling goods.  This, however, provides only temporary relief; as the buffer stocks run down, deliveries will have to resume. Second, many companies, particularly in the retail sector are having difficulty sorting out the customs paperwork they now have to complete, in many cases for the first time, and this is delaying the dispatch of the goods.  Third, tight Covid lockdowns in the UK and its EU near-neighbours are also depressing the level of economic activity. 

After this Brexit ‘honeymoon period’ traffic levels are expected to rise and French customs controls to be more rigorously applied. The UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Areas conceded in a document circulated last night to industry  that the ‘potential for further disruption remains high’.  So the contingency plan to expedite the return of empty trucks critical to the UK’s inbound food supply chain may seem a sensible precaution.  It nevertheless raises several thorny issues.

First, why just food and not industrial components for, say, automotive and aerospace plants which need them on a just-in-time basis to maintain their operations.  Presumably because empty supermarket shelves are more visible, newsworthy and politically embarrassing than the suspension of production in factories out of the public view.

 Second, exporters of time-sensitive products such as Scottish seafood will be justifiably aggrieved that their outbound trade is considered less important that imports of foreign food.  This seems contrary to the Brexit rhetoric.

Third, this plan sets a worrying precedent for hauliers shuttling freight between the UK and EU as it shows that the authorities are prepared the abandon the principle of fairness in the management of a queue.   The British used to be renowned worldwide for their respect for queuing.   Now that queue-hopping is officially sanctioned for particular types of traffic, foreign hauliers, who are responsible for 90% of truck movements on the Channel crossings, may be even less willing to serve the UK market, particularly if they are unable to persuade a traffic policeman that they’ll be coming back with a truckload of courgettes, clementines or cucumber.

Posted in Discussion | 1 Comment

One Response to Prioritising the flow of empty trucks: another Brexit anomaly

  1. Amritpal says:

    Aren’t we supposed to be the best in the world at queuing?

    I wonder if anyone is considering other regional shipping ports, or alternative suppliers within the UK as a short term mitigation?

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© Professor Alan McKinnon 2021

Kuehne Logistics University
Hamburg
Germany

contactme@alanmckinnon.co.uk

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© Professor Alan McKinnon 2021

 

Kuehne Logistics University
Hamburg
Germany

 

contactme@alanmckinnon.co.uk

 

Contact me

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