No-deal Brexit could be ‘turn the lights out’ time for NI hauliers

Expert says consequences of limit to permits for delivering to Continent would be dire

A goods lorry at the commercial harbour port in Larne, Co Antrim. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

A goods lorry at the commercial harbour port in Larne, Co Antrim. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images


A no-deal Brexit could have a hugely negative impact on the haulage industry in Northern Ireland, and also would be damaging for exporters, a road freight specialist has warned.

Seamus Leheny, policy manager at the UK Freight Transport Association in Northern Ireland, explained that at present hauliers from European Union member state countries can deliver goods throughout the EU without permits.

But, he said on Wednesday, in the event of a no-deal Brexit then European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) multilateral permits, which are issued by the EU, would be required by British and Northern Irish road freight companies.

Mr Leheny said the permits would meet only 5 per cent of the demand. He estimated that would mean Northern Irish hauliers getting 60-70 permits a year when, he reckoned, there were hundreds of truck loads travelling from the North to the Continent “every week”.

He said that in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU on March 29th, the EU was allowing a “period of grace of nine months” before the permits would be required.

But to prepare for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, hauliers were advised to start applying now for the permits.

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He said one operator in Northern Ireland who applied for 35 permits was only allowed two.

“You don’t need me to explain the consequences of this,” he tweeted.

Elaborating for The Irish Times, Mr Leheny said: “Basically it would be turn-the-lights-out time if you can only get two permits. You simply cannot operate a European service based on that model.”

“The central worry is that these permits will only cover 5 per cent of market need. Ninety-five per cent of UK trucks going to the EU simply won’t get permits. So, it would cause massive problems for us, and for UK and Northern Ireland companies getting raw materials in and out,” he said.

Quota system

There are 43 countries who are party to the ECMT permit system, including the current 28 members of the EU. Each ECMT member country is allocated a limited number of permits each year, under a quota system.

Once the quota has been used, further permits are available throughout the year, for which fees are charged on a sliding scale. Normally, all permits are allocated before the beginning of the year in which they are valid.

Mr Leheny said the only way to get around the problem would be through subcontracting work.

“Instead of me organising, say, a load to Italy, I would have to drive to Dover, check the load on to a ferry and then rely on a French or Italian haulier to do the second stage of the journey for me,” he said.

“The problem with that is it raises security and integrity concerns around the load. An exporter wants to have oversight of where their load is. If I, as a haulier, can give an exporter in Northern Ireland assurances that my driver will collect, say, a load of beef in Dungannon and it will be the same driver and lorry that delivers it to your customer in Milan, that gives them a level of assurance about the security, integrity and traceability of the load.

“Once you start involving third parties and disconnecting trailers and things like that, that calls that into question, and I don’t think it would satisfy a lot of exporters,” he added.

Mr Leheny said hauliers consequently were anxious that a withdrawal agreement would be ratified so that haulage could continue as normal during the transition period, which could run up to the end of 2022, and that thereafter, “hopefully, a future trade relationship means we won’t need [the ECMT permits] anyway”.


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