Brexit: where next and what does it mean for global mobility?
In December 2019, Boris Johnson’s UK election campaign was built on the slogan “Get Brexit done”. He was duly elected and set about the business of getting a Brexit deal formally approved by his own parliament and the UK’s European partners. However, almost a year and a half later, we are only now starting to feel the true effects on the world of relocation and global mobility.
FIDI hosted the ‘The road ahead: relocating between the EU & UK after Brexit’, which revealed a number of insights from a panel of industry experts.
Click here to hear the webinar – or read some of the key observations below.
Calm before the storm
Seasonally low volumes in January and February were depressed both by the global pandemic and the fact that many importers had stockpiled ahead of the Brexit deadline. For some people, the widely predicted problems simply hadn’t occurred – yet.
“If you were border-ready, you could proceed without being held up ... problems faced by individual companies have not translated into chaos across the board” - Sarah Laouadi, European Policy Manager at Logistics UK
“The finalisation of Brexit is not really the finalisation – it is only the start of it” - Rob Gilbert, owner at Oman-Beverly Smyth and president of FIDI Ireland
The guessing game
Even though the UK legally ceased to be bound by EU laws with regard to the transfer of goods across borders from 1 January 2021, much is still undecided – in that we don’t know what will happen until the time comes. In the absence of clear guidance, relocation companies, global mobility teams and shippers have had to second-guess what will happen in order to be prepared.
“April is only around the corner – there’s an awful lot of legislation that has to be enacted... Even though volumes are low, there is a sense of trepidation. We’re managing our day to day on the basis of what we believe will happen next.” - Rob Gilbert, owner at Oman-Beverly Smyth
Low levels of governmental guidance
The terms of trade under the Brexit agreement are not only new to operators: many government departments also appear to be struggling to find their way at the moment. The impact for global mobility teams and relocation companies is being unable to plan how long it will take and how much more it will cost to get shipments of household goods past customs.
“The customs didn’t know the answers – so we had to aggressively pursue questions in order to get answers for our customers.” - Rob Gilbert, owner at Oman-Beverly Smyth
“One of the interesting things is that we’ve received queries from member companies on a daily basis and we’ve been liaising with the authorities, but they don’t necessarily understand the answers either. When I send an email off I get a quick response, but it’s a holding response while they refer to a policy team or a minister.” - Ian Studd, Director General at the British Association of Removers
“The customs authorities have bolstered their workforce to deal with the extra work. There are 2,000 additional customs staff in place this year in Ireland alone – all quite inexperienced.” - Rob Gilbert, owner at Oman-Beverly Smyth
Delivering customer service
It’s one thing understanding the new situation, but companies have the challenge of translating this into a polished service to offer their clients. FIDI has, however, long been aware of the need for quality standards to evolve with the changing business landscape, and the FAIM certification is of particular value in these uncertain times.
“There’s probably an 8 or 9 step process for getting out of the UK and getting into Europe over and above what we used to have and one of the biggest elements is how we put this together, how we inform our clients, and how we train and manage our administration and operations staff because we have had to put it together very quickly and it’s ever-changing”. - Tony Tickner, Managing Director at The Euro Group Intl Ltd
“One of the most important things is managing customer expectations. Governments look at us like general cargo. But we don’t move pallets, we move people. We need to let customers know the process, let them know what our team and our crews are going through.” - Tony Tickner, Managing Director at The Euro Group Intl Ltd
The need for common understanding
Communication and coordination between partners of all kinds – and their customers – is of increasing importance, given the uncertainty of the situation. Technologies such as blockchain may be helpful to improve coordination and streamline processes,
“Our surveys show that a lack of coordination between supply chain entities led to significant problems. From the sample of members we have surveyed, those who experienced customs issues noted that there was an element of misunderstanding or miscommunication at the heart of the problem.” - Sarah Laouadi, European Policy Manager at Logistics UK
“Associations such as ours (British Association of Removers) and FIDI have a real role to gather up the questions from members, farm them out to the appropriate points of contact and feed them back into our members, to make sure that we are working towards a common understanding.” - Ian Studd, Director General at the British Association of Removers
Costs and volumes are going to increase
As we emerge from the pandemic, volumes are likely to increase and the costs of the extra admin are likely to appear too. The summer will bring high season for expat movement and global mobility teams will hope that processes, costs and delays are better understood by then.
“A large number of clients when surveyed have said that they have incurred extra costs.” - Sarah Laouadi, European Policy Manager at Logistics UK
“We’re currently finding costs between 150 and 300 euros extra outlay per shipment - and that’s customs processes causing those charges. - Tony Tickner, Managing Director at The Euro Group Intl Ltd
“Last year the customs authorities dealt with roughly one million transactions. On January 1st this year they anticipated there would be 28 million transactions in 2021”. - Rob Gilbert, owner at Oman-BeverlySmyth
“As an industry, we cannot absorb these costs. The skill required of our operational staff is an additional and valuable service.” - Tony Tickner, Managing Director at The Euro Group Intl Ltd
How will Brexit affect you?
The full impact of Brexit is probably yet to be felt and the situation will of course develop over the coming years.
Right now, however, for more specific advice on the effect of Brexit on your business, we strongly recommend FEDEMAC's excellent "Guide to Brexit", which contains regularly updated information on UK import and export regulations to and from different EU countries.
To hear the webinar in full, click here