The disruption to travel and freight haulage across the UK in recent days has been described by Bord Bia “as an insight into the post-Brexit world”.
The food and drink export agency warned that Irish firms using the UK as a land bridge to export into mainland Europe needed to put in place contingency plans ahead of the December 31st Brexit deadline.
Shane Hamill, strategic projects manager and Brexit lead at Bord Bia, said up to a third of Irish food exports, worth €4.5 billion annually, are channelled through the UK to export destinations in mainland Europe and are likely to have been impacted by the recent disruption.
Lorry queues and travel chaos were reported across the UK on Sunday and early Monday after France announced a 48-hour ban on passengers and freight entering from the UK in a bid to contain a new variant of coronavirus.
At one stage up to 250 Irish trucks were stuck in England but the Irish Road Haulage Association said most of these had now got through.
Shipping operator Stena Line also announced it would add a second ferry on its direct route between Ireland and France from Tuesday to allow hauliers to avoid Britain and Covid-related travel restrictions.
“This is an insight into the post-Brexit world, assuming that everything else stays the same,” Mr Hamill said.
“150,000 trucks use the landbridge every year and most are carrying sensitive short shelf-life products,” he said, noting that this was still the fastest and most predictable way to get goods to the continent from Ireland and key to just-in-time supply chains.
“What you’re going to see as a reaction to this is companies reorganising their supply chains to avoid the landbridge and in fact many have already started doing that,” he said.
According to a recent Bord Bia survey, some 59 per cent of Irish food and drink companies have already made plans to avoid the UK landbridge after the upcoming Brexit deadline.
The ban on travel in and out of the UK, imposed by several European countries to contain a new coronavirus variant, has exposed the UK’s trade vulnerabilities ahead of Brexit.
Retail Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the retail sector, said retailers had comprehensive Brexit contingency plans in place to manage any disruption to supply chains from and through the UK.
“Supply chains between Ireland and the UK continue to operate as normal and direct connections between continental Europe are available should there be any ongoing issues with the UK landbridge,” it said
“Retailers are fully stocked for Christmas and stores will continue to be restocked on a daily basis,” it said, warning there was no need for customers to buy any more than they normally would.
However, Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president Tim Cullinan said he was very concerned about the impact of border closures on the movement of Irish agri-food exports to the continent, and on the efficiency of the food supply chain.
“We have normal trade across to the UK. The difficulties relate to the movement of freight which is trying to get across the UK landbridge to the continent,” he said.
“This level of disruption could be very damaging for the movement of stock off farms and the efficient functioning of the supply chain,” he said.