Foreign lorry drivers will be able to make an unlimited number of pick-ups and drop-offs in a fixed period in the UK under changes to rules proposed by the government to prevent shortages of products in the run-up to Christmas and into the new year.
On Thursday, ministers announced a consultation on a plan to increase deliveries in the UK by temporarily changing so-called “cabotage” rules, which govern how many trips foreign transport firms can make within another country.
Currently, hauliers from the EU can only pick up and drop off goods in the UK twice in a seven-day period, but the proposals would allow them to make an unlimited number of deliveries across two weeks.
If approved, the plans would come into force before the end of the year and last for six months.
But lorry drivers reacted strongly against the move, saying “we don’t want cabotage to sabotage our industry”.
The lorry driver shortage in the UK – caused by the effects of Brexit, the pandemic and other factors – has affected petrol stations, supermarkets and has led to containers stacked up at Felixstowe port unable to be moved.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said the effect of the proposed change to cabotage rules was the “equivalent of adding thousands of extra lorry drivers to the road, but we don’t have to do anything with visas in order to do this”.
He told Sky News: “It’s a straightforward measure. It’ll come in towards the end of the year. It’s one additional measure to 24 as a government we’ve already introduced and there’s evidence that’s working.”
He added: “People will be able to get things for Christmas – these measures are having an impact, things are loosening up.
“When I talk to ports they’re saying ‘yes, it is busy, it’s a globally busy picture’, but if you compare us to many ports around the world, we need to keep this in proportion – things are flowing.”
Rod McKenzie, the managing director of policy and public affairs at the Road Haulage Association, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We don’t want cabotage to sabotage our industry.”
He said: “I spoke to some of our members last night, they were appalled. Ridiculous, pathetic, gobsmacked were some of their more broadcastable comments.
“The government has been talking about a high-wage, high-skill economy, and not pulling the lever marked ‘uncontrolled immigration’, and to them this is exactly what it looks like: allowing overseas haulage companies and drivers to come over for perhaps up to six months on a fortnightly basis to do unlimited work at low rates, undercutting UK hauliers who are facing an acute driver shortage, rising costs, staff wages.
“This is about taking work from British operators and drivers and giving it to Europeans who don’t pay tax here and pay peanuts to their drivers.”
Shapps said issues with supply chains were a problem internationally but they were being dealt with “resiliently” in the UK and “we shouldn’t report ourselves into a crisis”.
“We know that the globe has woken up following coronavirus with huge supply chain issues everywhere around the entire world,” he said.
“But in this country we have taken 24, now 25, different steps on the domestic side of that – the lorry drivers side of things – and we’re seeing it have a big impact.
“We’ve got now three times as many people applying to become lorry drivers every single day than before the crisis. We have to be careful, we mustn’t try and report ourselves into a crisis.”