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Will Brexit mean ‘Highway to hell’ or ‘On the sunny side of the street’ for movers?

Aug 12, 2016
Tony Richman, gives his thoughts on BREXIT and its affect on the UK moving industry

I voted to remain. Am I angry with those who voted to leave? No – but I am angry with all of those who called for and allowed a Referendum. The complexities of our membership of the EU were always greater than our individual knowledge of such matters – a sentiment very well summarised in The Mover’s editorial leader (issue 063, June 2016). A vote of such monumental importance should have been taken by the elected representatives of our country together with all the expertise they can call upon in such matters. 

I am also angry with the ‘whoppers’ we were all fed, from both sides, in the lead up to the vote and how we have now witnessed the main instigators running for cover and distancing themselves from the mess they have caused – leaving us with yet more egotists fighting for power and pulling the rug from under each other’s feet. Then we were subjected to the deplorable antics and opinions expressed by Nigel Farage in the European Parliament – he has got what he wanted but was it necessary to sink to the gutter level by trying to distance our country from our allies in such embarrassing ways. Please - friends from all over Europe, from all over the world – do not accept for one minute that the majority of us Brits are tarred with such hate or ignorance.   

Am I personally worried about the future? Of course I am – I am a pensioner and have no idea how the future economy will pan out during my time left in this world – I am a father and a grandfather and I fear for the future prospects for my family, their jobs, their mortgages and indeed their security.  I fear for the future of our nation. We live in very difficult times and becoming insular and self-centred has not been what has got us the respect, from people all over the world, which we have had up until now. I hope we can find a way to regain that trust, especially with our closest neighbours and allies here in Europe. 

Do I class myself as an expert? No – but I have had 50 years running my own removal company mostly specialising in European work. I served on practically every committee of the BAR and its predecessors over a period of more than 40 years. I was the longest ever serving member on the Board of Management and spent more than 20 years, mostly on a voluntary basis, representing BAR in FEDEMAC and eventually served as President of FEDEMAC for a 4-year period before taking over from Professional Lobbying Agencies to represent our industry. It was always a problem specifying what laws we stopped, although there were indeed a number. The benefit of lobbying within was to win amendments and concessions to proposals that would otherwise have been disastrous for our industry had we not been in there, fighting for our corner, explaining to bureaucrats the differences between movers and general transporters and what would be best or unacceptable to our customers. Had we been out of the EU we would have found matters much more difficult.  

The result of the referendum, as we all now know, was carried by numerous votes against matters that are only partially connected with the EU or not at all. 

I’m not one to say "I told you so" – indeed, I sincerely hope that in the long term, success for our country and its people can be salvaged from the hurdles that now face us all. But I do believe that matters will get worse before they get better and the recovery could take many years. 

So how do I see the future for the removals and transport industry for UK operators in the aftermath of the vote for Brexit? Knowing what will happen, should Britain leave the EU, is very much like sticking your finger in the wind and predicting the weather for the next decade.  

The transport sector is a diverse and wide-ranging part of the British economy. While there are parts that conduct business solely within Britain, every part is, in some way, affected by our membership of the EU.  

Britain’s access to the free market has been a key factor in the rise of low-cost British carriers over the last 20 years, with the industry benefiting from low labour costs and the ability to operate anywhere in the EU. I’m old enough to remember when trucks had to be craned on and off boats before RoRo ferries were introduced, where a 6 volet TIR Carnet was needed even to transport goods from the UK to Belgium and a 14 volet TIR Carnet for other destinations.  There were tryptiques for trailers, bilateral and multi-lateral permits to travel to or across another country, ATA carnets for temporary exports, AA International Driving licences, Green Card insurance, Bail Bonds and Visas for drivers and crew members. These are just some of the hurdles we had to jump, there were many more. Nobody is suggesting that we will return to such a degree of red tape but it is likely that customs clearance formalities will be introduced such as those that apply today for moves to and from Switzerland. 

The T-Form system (S.A.D) will probably continue to apply but we may well find that vehicles have to be sealed from the UK to the European country of destination or vice versa making it very difficult for groupage operators or those wanting to deliver a part load, say, in France en-route with a main load to Spain. 

I fought for many years to try to simplify the documentation requirements for moves from countries outside the EU into the EU to take place in any one of the EU countries, thereby allowing free uninhibited onward transport to the EU country of final destination.  Are we now likely to see all the complexities of obtaining residence permits, work permits, rental agreements, bank guarantees and inventories legalised by the relevant embassy/consul before moves such as those from the UK to Spain or other EU countries can take place, with the added delay of several hours or even days at the final customs clearance point? 

Many operators blame the EU for the many laws and legislation requirements that apply to transport operators throughout Europe, even if only involved in national moves/traffic. I doubt very much that transport laws in the UK will be eased. Operating large commercial vehicles has never been looked upon favourably by any UK government, no matter what colour! If anything, we will still be required to abide by all EU laws for transport to operate into or via EU countries but without the clout to speak up or seek concessions or compromises for ourselves.  

On the plus side, the mess over the practicality of paying VAT on moves between EU countries, which I lobbied about for many years, could disappear as we may revert to a VAT zero rated situation for international moves between the UK and other EU countries. 

We may also see an increase in the number of moves from and to the UK – a situation often witnessed before in UK national elections and depending upon whether the ‘blues’ or the ‘reds’ won. But on the other hand is our industry going to suffer as a result of future limitations on the free movement of people? 

We have witnessed the early effect upon the value of Sterling which makes tolls, fuel , etc., much more expensive when crossing Europe but the Stock Market has weathered better than expected, much as a result of the stimulus made by the Bank of England. The European Banking Authority is readying itself to move out of London, to be followed by staff from a number of financial houses, and Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris are already rolling out PR campaigns that target the biggest banks. Will the global giants such as Royal Dutch Shell, Unilever and HSBC choose to move their place of listing away from London? So, perhaps more opportunities for movers during such a period. 

However, the value of commercial property and the risk of investing in such property has already been seriously affected which may also have implications for removers in relation to their Balance Sheets and organising of loans and overdraft facilities. 

Our future will depend on how the UK parliament and the EU react to the result of the referendum and subsequent negotiations. It is a time for level heads, business-like negotiations: not threats, gloating or name-calling! 

Negotiating either a customs union or bilateral agreement with the EU would likely precipitate more far-reaching change, in particular because it is likely that all or some of the fundamental treaty freedoms would cease to apply.  

UK Trade associations, including the BAR, now have to work hard to pull their memberships together. In-fighting will only make matters and negotiations more difficult. 

Then, we face the problem of keeping our United Kingdom united. Any weakening here would make each ‘kingdom’ a much smaller fish in a global sea. 

For more than a century movers in the UK have united within their association or associations to become ‘stronger’ and to have a more influential voice. The BAR is at present a full member of FEDEMAC but will this status have to be changed to ‘Associate’ in the future? Our UK trade associations and Chambers of Commerce will have an important role to play as developments take place if we are to ensure that the UK remains an important player. 

For now, we have to wait to see if and when the UK government will serve notice under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. Negotiations thereafter are likely to be spread over a number of years – which prolongs the period of political and economic uncertainty. 

Operators cannot afford to be complacent or just sweep matters under the rug in the hope that nothing will change. 

The successful operators for the future will be those that plan carefully leaving themselves room to adapt, if need be, for changes along the way. Keep calm but alert: panic only causes pain and rash decisions. Equally, adopting a mantra of ‘pretending it didn’t happen’ will not be the remedy for the future. 

I wish you all ‘good luck’ for the future and the turbulent years ahead. Above all, I hope we maintain good relationships with our colleagues throughout Europe and the world and that we avoid sinking into an inward thinking, arrogant or insular nation. This has not been our way in the past and we need to reassure our allies it will not be in the future. 



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