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Freight bosses call for seamless trade at Kent ports as government begins Brexit negotiations

PUBLISHED: 09:09 19 June 2017 | UPDATED: 09:09 19 June 2017

Port of Dover

Port of Dover

Archant

There have been warnings of gridlock across Kent if the county isn’t ready for exiting the European Union

Freight bosses are calling on the government to prioritise logistics and trade to ensure lorries can move freely between Kent and Europe as formal Brexit negotiations begin today.

The logistics industry contributes over £121 billion Gross Value Added to the economy every year and employs 2.54 million people in the UK, 11 per cent of whom are non-UK EU nationals.

But chiefs argue its value goes far beyond this, saying logistics is an enabler, making both international trade and local deliveries possible.

Prime minister Theresa May has already indicated that the UK will leave the EU without a deal if the government cannot reach a suitable agreement within the two-year timeline, particularly on new trade arrangements.

Under this scenario, businesses would suddenly have to face controls, checks and delays at the border with very little time to adapt to new rules and arrangements.

The Tunbridge Wells-based Freight Transport Association has warned that any delays at the border – especially around major transport modes such as ports - and additional red tape will jeopardise freight operations, especially those handling time-sensitive and perishable goods, and are likely to add costs which will filter down to the consumer.

Indeed there have been warnings about the return of Operation Stack, as gridlock on the motorways sparked chaos across the county.

Pauline Bastidon, FTA’s head of European policy, said: “The government must not underestimate the impact of Brexit on the industry if not managed carefully.

“Businesses run on predictability – anything that causes uncertainty creates problems in terms of operating, costing and forward planning.

“Leaving the EU without a deal and an agreement on a transitional period would be the worst possible scenario.

“We need clarity at the earliest possible opportunity, together with a sensible period of transition and implementation to allow time for businesses and authorities alike to adjust to new arrangements.

“As negotiations are about to start, we are urging government to keep these important principles in mind and adopt a pragmatic approach when negotiating with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his team.”

FTA’s Brexit Manifesto highlights the organisation’s 10 key ‘asks’ for the government to achieve in the negotiation process.

These include the ability to retain EU workers, who are vital to the stability of the UK’s logistics sector, seamless access to the EU market for goods and transport services, and free movement of goods across the Irish border, which FTA believes should be made a special case in the negotiations.

Mrs Bastidon added: “FTA has asked the government to keep an open mind on solutions needed for the post-Brexit period and to reconsider its position on a customs union with the EU.

“FTA will be monitoring the process every step of the way on behalf of its members and ensuring their voice is heard, in the UK and in Brussels.

“Having a permanent office in Brussels allows us to stay very close to the negotiations.

“The clock started ticking on March 29 when Article 50 was invoked and it is crucial that the government acts swiftly to get the best possible deal for the UK and to bring much needed clarity to businesses.”

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