Leading figures in the British ports and logistics industry have told the British parliament that the potential introduction of customs clearance procedures, resulting from Brexit, could “seriously disrupt” supply chains.
The potential effects of leaving the European Union Customs Union (EUCU) include increased cargo transit times, a need for larger storage facilities and higher costs to importers and exporters, they told the Home Affairs Committee.
Graeme Charnock, chief financial officer, Peel Ports Group, stated that dwell times for EU import containers would rise post-Brexit if processed as non-EU containers currently are.
This involves customs officers performing inspections on random containers, with dwell times of two to four days, he added.
“Increased dwell time means increased areas, maybe warehouses,” he noted, before adding: “On a busy port estate there are constraints.”
Manufacturers operating on a “just-in-time” model may need to carry additional stocks, he pointed out.
Full EUCU membership prevents Britain from negotiating free trade deals with other countries, leading British Prime Minister Theresa may to indicate that Britain would leave the customs union after Brexit.
However, she has noted that she wants Britain “to have a customs agreement with the EU” and “tariff-free trade with Europe and cross-border trade there to be as frictionless as possible”.
At a speech where she confirmed Britain would leave the single market, she stated: “Whether … we must reach a completely new customs agreement, become an associate member of the customs union in some way, or remain a signatory to some elements of it, I hold no preconceived position.”
At parliament, James Hookham, deputy chief executive of the Freight Transport Association warned of non-tariff barriers such as food hygiene or safety and welfare checks slowing down smooth processes.
“The introduction of checks especially at the ports could seriously disrupt that and require a very significant reconfiguration of Britain’s supply chains,” he said.
Meanwhile, Andrew Baxter, managing firector, Europa Worldwide Logistics, stated: “There is no doubt that if customs clearance is reintroduced that will categorically put delays into the distribution of goods.”
Baxter, who stated that he campaigned for Brexit, added: “Having a secure supply chain is massively important to our customers and knowing that goods that are supposed to get to them in 48 hours actually do.”
There would be an “enormous increase in workload” for customs, he said.