System for getting supplies to Northern Ireland may be five days from collapse due to Irish Sea border, hauliers warn Michael Gove
Just a week into the Irish sea border, Northern Ireland is one storm or boat breakdown away from a critical break in its supply chain to the rest of the UK, hauliers have warned the government.
An 11-page report sent to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, which has been seen by the News Letter, presents the grim prospect of “a collapse of the NI supply chain” within five days if ministers fail to act urgently.
The development comes as a second major supermarket, Marks & Spencer, begins to withdraw hundreds of items from sale in Northern Ireland. M&S, which stayed in Northern throughout the Troubles, said that it was committed to remaining in the province and the move was because of the complexity of the new requirement to make customs declarations when any goods are ‘imported’ to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Last night the Ulster Unionist Party tabled a motion to recall the Assembly in order to discuss the “horrendous difficulties” caused by the customs and regulatory border and urged Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill to jointly request that the government relaxes the new border regime.
In the report sent to the Cabinet Office, the Road Haulage Association’s (RHA) chief executive Richard Burnett, warned that after just eight days of the Irish Sea border there are major difficulties in getting products into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
The document, which was sent to Mr Gove on Thursday, said that “the supply chain is collapsing and within a matter of a week may totally collapse”.
Yesterday Mr Gove warned that the Irish Sea border problem “will get worse before it gets better” but insisted that “work is ongoing” and it is “all part of the process of leaving the European Union”.
The RHA report sent to Mr Gove contained examples from named hauliers. One firm said was sending 50 trailers a day to GB but only getting 30 back due because of faulty HMRC systems. The company said that some of its customers had believed government PR that everything would be fine and had no idea about the new red tape.
Another company said: “The whole thing is a disaster to be honest. It is currently easier to ship a container to China than a trailer from Cairnryan to Larne.”
Another firm said: “Today we have four Tesco loads – we have repeatedly asked what their arrangements are and are on a constant goose chase – this is one of the biggest supermarkets in the UK and they don’t even know what they are doing...Another driver just phoned who has been sitting at DHL since 9am as they cannot get their paperwork right. We are currently paying drivers to sit in their lorry.”
Another company said that parcel firms are cancelling requests for lorries because there are far less parcels being sent to Northern Ireland.
Yet another named company said it could not find enough vets to fill in the costly Export Health Certificates now required. It said: “No vet = No certificate = No upload to Traces portal = No import declaration = No movement number = No food for NI = No money for transport company. Can it get much worse?”
The RHA said that the complex bureaucratic systems in place are “not fit for purpose” and did not work in relation to basic realities such as lorries picking up multiple small loads at various locations, or travelling from Northern Ireland to GB via the Port of Dublin.
The RHA said that DUP minister Edwin Poots’ officials “are clearly stating that they intend to enforce the legislation despite a lack of resource, capability and systems on the GB side which has been documented for a significant amount of time”.
The haulage body warned that grace periods for supermarkets, which will expire at the end of March, and stockpiling at the end of last year “only masks the problem and pushes it down the line a few months”.
It said that what was happening represented “a hard border on Northern Irish soil”.
DUP MP Carla Lockhart called for Article 16 of the NI Protocol to be invoked – something Mr Poots last night supported – allowing some of the checks to be suspended. In a letter to Brandon Lewis, she said: “It wouldn’t be allowed to happen in the Prime Minister’s constituency, or in the Secretary of State’s constituency, so why should it happen in mine? Why should the people of Northern Ireland suffer?”
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