In recent months, international hauliers have encountered several changes to the way they work. These include changes resulting from the end of the Brexit transition period and requirements related to the coronavirus pandemic.

New trading arrangements with the EU

On 31 December 2020, the Brexit transition period came to an end. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) between the EU and UK makes provisions for the transport of goods by road. These include that:

  • permits are not required to move goods to, through and from each party’s territories;
  • a limited number of additional movements within the other party’s territories are permitted; and
  • operators must adhere to standards agreed between the two parties when making journeys between the EU and UK.

Because the UK is no longer part of the EU’s single market and custom’s union, increased documentation is required for the transportation of goods between the UK and EU. This includes customs declarations and evidence of compliance with regulations.

The UK has taken a phased approach to introducing border requirements, with some documentation not required for goods coming into Great Britain until July 2021. The Government’s policy is covered in its Border Operating Model. However, the EU is not phasing in checks. Therefore full customs and other requirements, such as sanitary and phytosanitary checks, were introduced for exports from Great Britain to the EU on 1 January 2021.

Goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland are not moving internationally. However, under the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland special rules apply to these movements, although they are within the same customs territory. The House of Commons Library has examined the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in a recent briefing.

The following resources provide information on the effects of these changes on haulage between the UK and EU, and Government action to mitigate these.

Increased documentation requirements

In evidence to the committee, representatives of the retail and manufacturing industries detailed the impact of increased documentation requirements on exports from the UK to the EU. Evidence was given by representatives of Make UK, the British Retail Consortium and the Food and Drink Federation.

In its report, Preparing for the End of the Transition Period, published before the TCA was agreed, the committee highlighted the limited time available for businesses to adapt to new procedures for exporting to the EU. In its response, the Government outlined the measures it has taken to reduce the burden of new requirements, including the phasing in of border controls and simplified rules of origin requirements.

In this oral question debate, members of the House of Commons raised concerns about increased costs and waiting times for businesses involved in trading with the EU, including haulage firms. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, responded that the Government is “working closely with businesses that are facing challenges”, and is “in regular operational contact with EU countries in order to smooth trade”.

In his letter, the Chief Executive of the Road Haulage Association describes the “enormous challenges facing critical supply chains as a result of the new trading relationship with the European Union”. He argues that one of these issues is a shortage of customs agents.

In its response, the Government details the support it has provided to exporters. This includes export helplines, webinars with policy experts and businesses support via international trade advisers. It also refutes some of the Road Haulage Association’s claims.

This article summarises data on the flow of lorries between the UK and EU since the beginning of 2021. It shows that at the beginning of the year trade was down on the same period last year. By the middle of February it had recovered somewhat, but was still down on last year. The proportion of lorries returning to the EU empty was also higher than in previous years but is decreasing.

Cabotage rules

The logistics industry body presents its argument that cabotage provisions in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement will mean performers’ European tours will no longer be viable. This is because the agreement specifies that hauliers will only be able to make two journeys within a trip to the EU. Logistics UK argues that this will have a significant negative impact on the UK’s cultural exports and associated jobs.

In its response to a written question concerning the impact of haulage and cabotage rules on performers’ tours, the Government said that it had proposed exemptions for specialist hauliers carrying out tours for cultural events but these had been rejected by the EU.


In December 2020, France closed its border with the UK in response to concerns about a new variant of Covid-19. This caused significant delays for lorry drivers on their way to France. After 48 hours, France reopened the border with the UK on the condition that all travellers, including lorry drivers, present evidence of a negative coronavirus test. The Covid-19 test must have been taken less than 72 hours before leaving the UK for France. Negative tests are also required before hauliers can enter Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.

The Government is providing free Covid-19 tests at haulier information advice sites in England. To reduce lorry traffic in Kent, the Government is encouraging drivers to do their coronavirus test before entering Kent. They are providing support to businesses to set up testing at their own premises to facilitate this.

On 21 January 2021, the Government introduced delegated legislation allowing it to impose a requirement on lorry drivers to have a negative Covid-19 test before entering Kent. The Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 3) (Amendment) Order 2021, laid under the made negative procedure, gives the Secretary of State the power to require proof of a negative test for hauliers using Kent’s coastbound motorways. The Government has not yet made use of this power.

On 22 February 2021, the Government announced that hauliers who have spent less than 48 hours in the UK will no longer need a Covid test when returning to France.

Cover image by Mike from Pexels.