From the perspective of trade, I think Brexit will be as bad as the lack of preparation for it.
We know what the requirements are going to be. Ireland operates under the Union Customs Code and that’s clear about what the processes and procedures are. Sometimes you look at the media and they show these images from back in the 90s, and earlier, of queues at the border but the one thing we have now that we didn’t have then is IT. We can now do things more quickly and remotely, so I can now sit in the office and prepare an export entry for crossing the border, send a copy of it to the driver and he can proceed on his way. Will there be a physical border? I don’t think so. I think what might happen is that a trader will get a phone call saying, ‘We saw your truck passing the border at 10.30am, can you tell us where he was going and what he was carrying?’
If we accept the fact that Brexit IS happening and we don’t know what the final agreement will be, we have to allow for the unknown. One thing I am reasonably comfortable with, is that there is no other country that the EU has a trade agreement with, where there are no declarations required. So, the expectation is that the UK will become a third country and declarations will be required. Revenue are gearing up towards that, HMRC are gearing up towards that, so everything is falling in line.
But, that kind of knowledge within the industry – both the logistics sector, to a degree, but more so the manufacturing industry – is gone because we haven’t had to deal with it for over a quarter of a century. A few old fossils like me remember how the process works and how it applies, so we’re trying to share that knowledge in a number of ways. We’re an advisor to individual companies and trade associations on how to prepare for Brexit, specifically the customs aspect of it. This includes the documentation, the regulations aspects, and giving them some insight into some of the trade facilitations that Customs have, which will allow them to reduce ‘the pain’ of the whole process of trading with the UK in a post Brexit scenario. It’s all part of the necessary preparation.
But, here’s my concern: Revenue estimate that we currently do 1.6 million declarations per annum. Their guess is, for UK-Ireland trade, that that will increase to 20 million – and that’s not taking North-South into account, which could be in the region of 50 million declarations. The capacity, or the knowledge, isn’t in the logistics or manufacturing industries and government organisations have been advising exporters and importers to appoint a customs broker, and there aren’t enough brokers out there.
It’s like the old saying that we don’t miss something until it’s gone, and the value of the single market and the free circulation of goods is inestimable. Logistics and transport has been very good to me over the years and I like to be able to put a bit back in. I have been doing it with the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers in various roles and, while I am not doing this pre-Brexit work for nothing, I am doing it with this in mind. I appreciate I have a level of knowledge and experience which is in short supply in the industry and I’m trying to spread that out there. It was a divergence for our business but, thankfully, the extra staff are busy, I travel around the country to attend briefings as well, so it’s been a bit hectic. I can’t even remember where I was Monday and Tuesday!
I’m still hands on, though, and I still go on and off the ships in port in my agency role. I love the diversity of it, it’s what I grew up with and I’ve always worked in the industry. And my wife worked in it as well, so she understands it. We take the 24/7, 365 aspect of it ‘as is’.
Derek Dunne is CEO of Manifests Ireland.