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With Brexit now happening, there has been much talk of what it will mean for the haulage industry. Obviously, since Brexit has only just happened that remains unclear, however, now could be a good time to assess the challenges of road transport in general and with regards to what could happen after Brexit.

Regulatory harmonisation

Of all the challenges faced by the road haulage industry anywhere in the world, then this is possibly the biggest. The EU went a long way towards alleviating these challenges within Europe, but Brexit could be about to change all that and, in the short term at least, the consequences might be painful for a lot of people, especially those directly involved in the road haulage industry.

For example, it recently emerged that on 28th October 2018, the government spent £107k installing M20 cones for Brexit traffic plan Operation Brock, so as to be able to turn the M20 into a lorry park in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Then the very next day it spent another £88K on taking them away again. The reason for this action was that UK officials were concerned that customs checks at cross-Channel ports would be delayed to the point where it would create a back-log of vehicles leading from Dover.

Security and safety

Security and safety are both very broad terms and when you put them together they can potentially cover a huge range of issues many of which could be impacted by Brexit either directly or indirectly. For example, while the term security might initially suggest protection against theft, whether of the vehicle or the goods inside it, there is also a need to protect against fraudulent behaviour, basically the misrepresentation of goods (or indeed people since long-haul vehicles still need human drivers and may need other human crew as well).

Likewise, while the term safety may initially suggest practicalities such as making sure that vehicles are properly maintained and that their drivers get enough sleep, it can also extend to issues such as ensuring that both crew and goods are protected from physical harm due to lack of effective law enforcement (or indeed emotional harm in the case of humans).

To be fair, the challenges of managing these issues are far from unique to Brexit, but also to be fair, it’s quite easy to see how Brexit could exacerbate them, especially over the “final stretch” between Calais and Dover. In fact, it’s not necessarily entirely out of the question that the channel tunnel would need to be shut, if not permanently, then at least on a short-term basis, to address security issues, with the result that lorries would need to go back to using ferries to cross the channel.

Promoting sustainability

While there are many factors involved in the sustainability of the road haulage industry, many of them revolve around the concept of getting maximum value out of each journey. This means that road haulage operators will typically aim to carry the maximum, safe load for each part of their trip. In some cases, cabotage forms an essential part of this strategy.

For example, if a UK-based operator delivers a full load to another EU country, let’s say Spain, but does not have enough orders to make up a full load from Spain to the UK, they may use cabotage to make up the difference, for example, taking some goods only as far as France and then picking up different goods in France to bring to the UK. If this possibility is eliminated as a result of Brexit, then sustainability may suffer. Even if it is just made more complicated, there may be difficulties transitioning which could lead to a lower level of sustainability.