Exports from the United Kingdom to the European Union were down by 68% in January compared to January 2020, according to the Road Haulage Association (RHA), the Observer reports.
The RHA counted traffic passing via the Channel Tunnel and by ship from the UK to EU ports, and concludes that the major part of the problem is not the Covid-19 pandemic but the government’s own Brexit arrangements.
Covid-19 did have an effect, the RHA says, as did the precautionary measures taken by exporting companies in the UK and importers in the the EU, which saw them moving large quantities of goods in the run-up to the end of 2020, in an attempt to avoid expected problem once the transition period ended.
Large exports in the later months of 2020 were offset, then, by lower volumes in January, but the problems of January are here to stay unless the government takes action, RHA chief executive Richard Burnett told Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove in a letter.
Burnett has repeated calls for an increase in the number of customs agents available to help exporters through the mountain of new paperwork, to no avail. In his letter to Gove, he argues the number, currently standing at 10,000, would need to be increased fivefold to meet requirements.
And even while exports to Europe fell by 68%, Burnett told the Observer, red tape delays meant that 65-75% of vehicles bringing goods to the UK from Europe were going back empty, because administrative delays meant there was nothing for them to bring back.
Contacts with Gove, he said, had produced few results in recent months.
“Michael Gove is the master of extracting information from you and giving nothing back,” he said.
“He responds on WhatsApp and says he got the letter but no written response comes. Pretty much every time we have written over the last six months he has not responded in writing. He tends to get officials to start working on things. But the responses are a complete waste of time because they don’t listen to what the issues were that we raised in the first place.”
The RHA figures were confirmed by the CEO of the British Ports Association, Richard Ballantyne, who said they were “broadly in line” with his own impressions of the drop in traffic.