Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Road Haulage Group Cultivates New Relationship with Incoming Government Department Head

Things Not So Amicable with Anglophile French Port Boss Over Brexit Speech
Shipping News Feature
UK – As the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics, it follows therefore that five of them is more like an aeon, and it is that long since former Department for Transport Secretary Chris Grayling fell out so badly with Road Haulage Association (RHA) Chief Executive Richard Burnett over the latter's publication of the thinly veiled threat from the DfT official to exclude the freight lobby group from any further involvement in Brexit discussions.

Mr Burnett’s perceived offence at the time was to issue a press release critical of the government’s representative’s inability to comprehend what was necessary to achieve the best possible parting of the ways with the European Union. No matter, it seems good relations are to be resumed with the appointment of new Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who the RHA at least seem to feel is a fine fellow.

This week the pair met at the Department for Transport in London for the first time since Mr Shapps replaced Grayling. The RHA boss said that, during a very productive, hour long meeting, issues from driver shortages to Brexit were discussed, observing:

“This has a totally different feel in terms of the Government listening to the haulage and logistics sector and I’m really looking forward to working with the new Secretary of State. It’s good to see he understands the challenges we are facing over Brexit and it’s encouraging that he promised greater clarity on the processes traders will have to go through in the event of a no-deal at the end of October.

”The RHA has been critical about the lack of clarity over new customs processes and the complexity of the tasks involved in customs form filling. He sees the challenges ahead both in terms of the movement of goods on the island of Ireland and also at the ports, including the Short Straights, and has promised much more information. He told us he would be as helpful as he possibly can be to the sector. We look forward to seeing that in the coming days and weeks, but his energy and understanding on the issue is very welcome."

Earlier this week the RHA head was ruffling continental feathers when he responded to comments made by the president of Port Boulogne Calais, regarding the many warnings of post-Brexit chaos between Dover and Calais from the UK press and logistics related associations. In what is somewhat a reversal of traditional attitudes Jean-Marc Puissesseau had commented that the British authorities have been doing a great deal to prepare, issuing assurances that UK officials tasked with the changes are highly professional and ready for the transition.

Referring to those in Britain who are ‘whipping up this catastrophism for their own reasons, but basically c’est la bull****’, the Anglophile port chief said he was certain that the chaos at and beyond the Channel ports predicted by some, was simply scare mongering. Mr Burnett disagrees, saying:

“He says that the British authorities are Brexit ready, from the meetings we have had it is clear that they are not. Since day one we have been pressing Government for clarity as regards future border crossing procedures and we have conveyed our concerns about the future to Monsieur Puissesseau on many occasions.

“If everybody turns up in Calais with the right documents there will be no problems but today with only 80 days until we leave the EU, we still cannot establish what is needed and what qualifies as ‘lorry ready’. It’s an information abyss. If decisive, clear action is taken now, and if we get the right information into everybody’s hands then there’s every chance of making this happen. Disruption can be kept to a minimum and we will recover more quickly. But until we get the clarity that is so desperately needed, optimism is in very short supply. We are hoping for an urgent meeting with Monsieur Puissesseau to explain this and voice our concerns.”

Photo: Richard Burnett flanked by Grant Shapps MP (l) and Jean-Marc Puissesseau (r).