The BBC radio speech yesterday by Brexit secretary Dominic Raab stating that the uncertainty over exit from the EU was being blamed unfairly by company bosses for their failures, and was no more than an 'easy excuse', has been met by varying degrees of ire. The retort came about after John Lewis boss Sir Charlie Mayfield had made a speech recently regarding a dramatic fall in profits. The retail executive immediately replied, whilst the Road Haulage Association (RHA) picked up on the fact that UK driving licences may not be legal in the EU after March 2019.
The long-time John Lewis chairman said he would not get into a ‘ding dong’ with the minister but he had not said that Brexit was the sole reason for the company’s 98.8% fall in profits over the 6 month period, rather that the weak pound was making imports of manufactured goods more expensive. He previously had said ‘with the level of uncertainty facing consumers and the economy, in part due to ongoing Brexit negotiations, forecasting is particularly difficult.”
What qualifies Mr Raab to be an expert on the flow of business remains to most a mystery. With a distinguished academic background as a student in law at Oxford and Cambridge he had moved to the Foreign Office by the time he was 26, later making the oft seen figure of a ‘one size fits all’ politician. This lack of experience in business is something that common tradesmen such as Sir Charlie Mayfield with his knighthood for services to business have problems accepting.
For its part the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has picked up on another government guidance paper released today which points out that a no deal scenario could mean UK drivers will not hold a valid licence to drive in the EU. The RHA believes that the comments are nothing more than a smoke screen for the ‘big-ticket’ items that need to be addressed before March 2019. Commenting, RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said:
“Six months ago, transport minister Chris Grayling assured us that there would be no border controls at Dover when he said ‘We don’t check lorries now and we’re not going to be checking them in the future’. Today, with just over 6 months to go until we leave the EU, Dominic Raab has said that there would be risks and short-term disruption in the event of no deal with extra border checks meaning delays for businesses. But we still have no definitive answers to our repeated questions as to how the future border controls will work?”
The question of driving licences does have all the hallmarks of scare tactics. There is no such thing as an ‘international driving licence’, merely an international driving permit, an AA sponsored scheme which validates the licence to be acceptable in countries overseas. These are obtainable from a variety of organisations, including the Post Office, and are already becoming an essential for drivers in foreign climes. It would presumably simply need for the document to be ratified as valid in the EU where it is currently not required.
At a cost of around £5.50 upwards for a one year permit plus a photograph the problem of driver acceptance is worth noting, but hardly the most crucial detail in the Brexit debate, particularly as Britain will presumably require reciprocal validation for EU drivers entering the UK. The RHA is far more concerned with the issue of qualifications for transport professionals, plus of course the future of any road transport permit scheme for vehicles.
The RHA says it welcomes the recent commitment by Government to explore new bilateral permits as progress, but surely about time. It also praised the fact that officials confirmed last week that EU workers in the UK now have certainty that transport manager and driver qualifications gained in the EU will be recognised by the UK (so far the EU is proposing to strip qualifications from workers employed in the EU if the qualifications come from the UK, even for those obtained during the UK membership of the EU). Burnett continued:
“It is disappointing that the international haulage technical paper was not published today. Without clarity, any changes in supply chain operations cannot be delivered in the time left between now and next March. With so many unanswered questions, how can businesses even begin to prepare? All businesses in Europe deal with governments and businesses all over the world, but the changes needed to keep food in the shops and the wheels of industry turning under a no-deal Brexit are beyond the routine, we need the time to do it. Deal or no deal, a transition period is essential.”