Four months on from Brexit: what have we learnt?

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Brexit: prepare for rule changes


Stuart Stobie, group sales & marketing director at Priority Freight

It has been four months since the UK left the EU. Four months that the industry had years to prepare for. So, how has it come to be that we are struggling to adapt? Is the pandemic to blame, or perhaps the uncertainty of a deal or no-deal Brexit was impossible to prepare for?

The UK’s exit from the EU was always going to bring new and unforeseen challenges for even the most prepared logistics companies but adapting to such a fundamental change during a global pandemic was a shock very few industries were equipped to deal with. As the pandemic grew and logistical resources shrank, many industry bodies requested an extension to the transition period of leaving the EU. However, the deadline was adhered to, and some claimed that the UK’s full customs borders immediately placed the country at a disadvantage.

Unlike the pandemic, the industry did know that Brexit was looming, allowing forward-thinking freight companies to start contingency planning. Companies that began planning for Brexit early by recruiting and training expert customs staff are the ones who are thriving now despite the pandemic. For example, accreditations such as Authorised Economic Operator Full (AEOF) status affords logistics providers access to quicker customs procedures and allows the movement of goods into temporary storage between different member states. Furthermore, logistics providers that can offer customs clearance on behalf of their customers and deliver the freight are well ahead of the standard offering currently available.

By its very nature, the air cargo sector requires numerous parties to work together to complete the process – shipper, freight forwarder, cargo handler, carrier and last-mile delivery (plus others). It’s easy to understand where delays are introduced with so many stages in one logistics solution. 4PLs who have the resources and expertise to fulfil these multiple roles in-house can expedite each stage, minimise delays and maintain visibility of the cargo end to end.

Was post-Brexit success entirely dependent on how prepared companies were by December 31? Yes and no. Those better prepared certainly overcame issues sooner than those that hadn’t already put the resources, training or accreditations in place. The hope among the industry is that, as we emerge from the pandemic and this capacity returns, the logistics sector will be able to grow again as customers will no longer need to stockpile goods. At this point, we will be able to focus solely on improving cross-border transport.

So, what have we learnt as an industry from post-Brexit logistics? Mainly that our greatest strength is our people. By training the right staff, recruiting experts, and giving customers a trusted and transparent solution, we can overcome the industry’s challenges. Some matters will take longer than others to resolve, and some cannot be attributed to Brexit. We cannot overlook the profound changes to the industry brought about by the pandemic, changing consumer behaviour and new business models. Perhaps the only thing that can be learnt, therefore, is to expect the unexpected.