Scottish MSPs told 'no upside' to Brexit for manufacturing or road haulage

A failure to have new customs arrangements ready for January 1 when Brexit comes into full force will see “many mistakes made” and the UK supply chain disrupted, MSPs have been warned.

a view of a city street filled with lots of traffic (C) There are fears of lorry queues at ports as a result of Brexit.

Leading members of the UK road haulage industry and Scotland’s engineering manufacturing industry, also told Holyrood’s Culture and Europe committee that the cost of new administrative burdens meant there was “no upside” to Brexit. Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs with the Road Haulage Association, said that Scottish firms were “anxious” about the changes ahead.

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He said most Scottish firms were small, to medium-sized enterprises, which “do not necessarily have a big back office to process vast amounts of red tape”. He added: “When I talk to to small operators, the burden of red tape, the extra worry on top of what they’re doing to try and make a living… the margins are about 2% and if you erode that through increasing costs you’re driving them out of business.

Some are thinking of closing and that is very concerning.” Asked by SNP MSP Kenny Gibson if there was still time to improve the situation, he said: “We cannot make this good from where we are now. What we can do, if we all pull together, is mitigate some of the worst effects.

There are very few days to go, and I don’t keep a running list [of problems] because it depresses me too much, but the clock is ticking.” He added: “Lorry parks are springing up over England which are designed to stop big queues at Dover which wouldn’t look good on the TV news, but they’re really a diversion where trucks can be corralled until paperwork is sorted out. The paperwork is complex, there are not enough customs agents and we don’t have that simple end-to-end journey clarity that we need.

“When the government fails to spell things out it means the customs agents don’t themselves know and some will make it up as they go along, it’s inevitable, so many mistakes will be made, trucks will be stopped and there will be delays to the supply chain. But the scale of it we don’t know. “I am critical of what the government has done by way of preparation, that’s not a political point but an operational one but certainly we’re not in an ideal place where we are right now.”

Mr McKenzie’s view was backed by Paul Sheerin, chief executive officer of Scottish Engineering, who when asked if there was any upside to Brexit, said: “There are a few, very small isolated examples where companies have been surprised to see a small benefit, but they’re far outweighed… the balance is strongly against there being any benefit from Brexit at all… the cost, the administrative burdens… it just does not make sense for the engineering manufacturing sector.” Mr Sheerin said there was an estimated 400m extra customs declarations which could average up to GBP13bn a year in additional costs to UK businesses. “I can’t, hand on heart, say here’s what the impact will be but it’s the unintended consequences,” he said. “It’s extremely detrimental to the sector and for Scotland.”

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