The government is committed to delivering Brexit on schedule on 31 October with or without a deal, transport secretary Grant Schapps MP told the RHA parliamentary reception last night.
Appointed by Boris Johnson when he became prime minister to replace the widely disliked Chris Grayling, Schapps was described as a “breath of fresh air” by RHA chief executive Richard Burnett.
But Burnett was scathing about the chaos surrounding Brexit, just 10 days before the UK is due to leave the EU.
“Brexit has been an enormous challenge and drain for all of us,” he said, “but particularly for our industry as we prepare for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. This focus has been driving paralysis across government when there are so many issues not being addressed. It is affecting the economy, with profit warnings left, right and centre and high street shops disappearing.
“We need to stop this paralysis and get Brexit done. We are fed up as a nation and as an industry of having to constantly deal with the potential of a no deal. We need clarity and surety to invest and drive growth again and our customers need exactly the same.”
But Schapps said the “level of preparation [for a no-deal Brexit] has been absolutely extraordinary” and that the recent votes in the House of Commons against the government’s latest withdrawal agreement “increases rather than decreases the chances of leaving on October 31 without a deal”.
“As such we must make sure we are as ready as we possibly can be,” he went on. “To reverse [Brexit] would take an enormous effort. More to point, there is a deal that can pass but we cannot guarantee that will happen either.
“So my message this evening is very simple – thank you for the extraordinary work that you have been getting on with; advising us on Operation Brock, putting in an enormous amount of time, energy and effort into preparing hauliers so they are ready, working with us on those pop ups that are now in a 100 different locations around the country and working with us on the hauliers’ guides so there is material available in 12 different languages. All this while never forgetting that it is not the hauliers who have to prepare, it is the traders themselves who have to be ready.”
The government is spending £9m on up to 150 no-deal Brexit pop-up advice booths to be stationed at the roadside around the UK and EU.
“I hope this is all completely wasted and that we will get a deal through in the next 10 days,” Schapps said. “But if that is not done, we will I’m afraid have to move to Operation Brock to ensure a smooth flow. I know with your help we will be able to keep things flowing. We have done the groundwork to prepare for something I hope will never happen.”
The government has also promised to hypothecate vehicle excise duty so the all money raised will be ring-fenced and spent only the road network from April 2020.
The transport secretary thanked Sir Mike Penning, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on road freight and logistics, for his report on the driver shortage and called on employers to improve the diversity of their workforce.
“In common with a lot of other sector, this industry is not nearly diverse enough, and there are not enough people from different backgrounds,” Schapps said. “Just 1% of lorry drivers are female and there are relatively few black, Asian and minority ethnic drivers. I know the RHA takes this very seriously and we have funded Road to Logistics with £1m since I came to the department.
“That is taking veterans, ex-offenders and the long-term employed and skilling them up. I want to share with you a comment from John who took part in the Road to Logistics pilot. He had fallen on hard times but after gaining his Class 1 HGV licence he is on his way to becoming an experienced driver. He credits the scheme with changing his life so thank you for everything you are doing; it is a truly inspiring story.”