The UK government recently stated that freight levels with the EU were back to normal but this may not reflect reality. The worst scenarios have thankfully been avoided and freight is moving, although not as before.
One obvious hole in government statistics is their inclusion of empty vehicles as freight movement. Since January, the number of vehicles returning to the EU empty has risen from 30% to 50%, almost 60% for Dover.
Comparisons are also based on 2021 against 2020, which was itself not a normal year. The early part of 2020 had different but notable effects from Brexit and to an extent, from the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.
An Improving Picture
All those working in the transport sector have helped to build improvement and February has been better than January. Once trade figures are available we will see the outcome, best estimates are that trade with the EU has now reached around 80% of 2020, 70% of a good year.
Certain sectors are suffering more, such as food and livestock. Issues remain on importing, with some companies still declining to send goods from the EU to the UK, there are practical barriers.
Procedures to reduce Covid-19 infection are essential but have a direct impact, along with the reduced level of operation in many sectors. Sourcing and paying for container space adds to the load, as does increased bureaucracy.
Even so, the freight industry can be relatively pleased with itself, for the effort made and the speed of adaptation at short notice.
Looking To The Future
On 1st July, temporary leeway for imports from the EU is meant to cease, which will increase border checks, admin and cost. There is pressure for an extension, although progress on more permanent solutions would be better.
The reality is that EU/UK transport costs have risen and that apart, a proportion of people simply prefer to avoid the hassle. This is noticeable not only at Dover, other ports such as Holyhead have seen heavier falls in traffic.
As a variety of EU business contracts come up for renewal, the suspicion persists that a percentage of people will turn away from the UK, reducing trade. This Spring could prove to be a highlight if we are not careful.
One logistics specialist described current arrangements as “akin to the country placing economic sanctions on itself.” Hardly an international confidence building exercise, or a shrewd economic move.
We have left the EU, time to bury the hatchet, compromise where needed and focus on trade rather than political principles. As with much of the world at present, the British people need signs of real, practical progress.