British lorrydrivers 'at a disadvantage' over post-Brexit restrictions on how long they can spend in Europe

Hauliers carrying goods to Europe have warned they face more damaging restrictions as the latest figures show exports dropped by two-fifths in January as the Brexit transition period came to an end.

Lorries prepare to embark on a ferry at the Port of Dover following Britain's departure from the European Union. Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

The chief executive of Hull-based haulage firm Neill & Brown Peter Brown said rules which only allow drivers to spend up to 90 days in the Schengen zone during any 180-day period could affect future investment in new vehicles and possibly lead to redundancies.

Mr Brown said it meant drivers were restricted to around 50 per cent of their normal time in Europe - and if a driver chose to go on holiday with their family that time would be added in.

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While the same rules apply to European drivers, they can be in and out of the UK in two days, he said, while sending a driver to Italy from the UK could take eight days.

Chief executive of Neill & Brown Peter Brown

Passports are now being stamped on entry and exit by customs officials.

Mr Brown said the latest development came after a “nightmare” with customs clearance over the last two months, with long delays at borders and ports, which was only slowly easing now.

RHA spokesman Paul Mummery said: “We’re very concerned about the restrictions this places on our members and we’ve raised it with ministers.

“Once a driver has run out of days - whether working or at leisure - they can’t return to the UK during that period. This is far from ideal for hauliers moving goods across borders.”

Meanwhile the UK’s decision to postpone border checks on some goods coming from the European Union for another six months has left many exporters angry.

MD of Amble-based Coquet Island Shellfish Ltd Tom Newton describes a fraught post-Brexit world trying to meet deadlines, “astronomical” administration costs and red tape to get products - including scallops caught off Yorkshire - into France.

He said: “While I’m subject to checks and charges and all the bureaucracy agreed post-Brexit, our European friends can travel into the UK with foodstuffs with no checks.

“How can that be fair?”

It came as the Office for National Statistics reported the largest fall in imports and exports since records began in 1997.

The main drivers were Goods exports to the EU fell by £5.6bn - 40.7 per cent, with imports from the EU also down £6.6 billion (28 per cent).

The British Chambers of Commerce said the figures provided “an ominous indication of the damage being done to post-Brexit trade with the EU by the current border disruption”, which went well beyond teething problems.

Labour’s Rachel Reeves, the Leeds West MP, accused the Government of leaving businesses “in the cold”.

A DfT spokesperson said: “The deal delivers a good outcome for UK-based international hauliers as over 95 per cent of journeys to and from the EU can continue without any additional permits.

"They can also work within and between EU member states, with no extra bureaucracy."

However truckdrivers would have to comply with EU immigration rules.