Brexit: “This is an issue that calls for joint efforts”

“Customs is as well prepared as possible for a no-deal Brexit,” says Brexit Programme Director Hans Klunder. “But the frictionless running of the subsequent logistics processes depends on more than our efforts alone.”

Dutch Customs has put a huge effort into dealing with the implications of a no-deal Brexit. That is the firm conviction of Hans Klunder, Brexit Programme Director at Customs. “But the smooth running of the logistical processes in the near future will depend on more than just our hard work. The preparations of other public authorities and industry are also very important.”

Hans Klunder was appointed Brexit Programme Director in the spring of 2018. He had already been a customs manager for several years: he started as deputy director of the Schiphol Passengers region, before becoming director of Customs Roosendaal. “That’s where I got to know the real customs work,” he says. Before making his appearance at Customs, Klunder had a long career in government institutions. He worked for the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, the Immigration and Naturalisation Service and the former centre for the promotion of exports of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Improving the work of public administrations for the benefit of citizens and businesses – that has always been a key driver in Klunder’s career. “When I was given the opportunity to become Brexit Programme Director, I didn't have to think about it for long. After all, this job brings together a lot of things that I find fascinating and important: moving a government organisation forward, managing and supervising a large and substantial change programme and working on relevant, socio-political issues.”

Crystal-clear remit
The government’s remit for Klunder as programme director was crystal clear: prepare Customs as well as possible for a no-deal Brexit. In other words: Brexit without a withdrawal agreement. In this worst case scenario, the UK becomes a third country overnight and all shipments of goods to and from the UK become subject to customs formalities. Klunder: “The message from the Dutch government to Customs was essentially twofold: ensure the continuity of customs processes in relation to the import, transit and export of goods between Europe and the UK and avoid unnecessary economic delays. After all, the smooth running of logistics processes is in the interests of European businesses, the citizens of Europe and, by extension, the Dutch economy.”

Impact analyses
To identify the implications of Brexit, Customs started making impact analyses as early as in 2017. “This showed that our service was facing a major challenge: a sharp increase in declaration volumes and electronic messaging, many more companies becoming Customs clients, and an increasing number of travellers requiring customs supervision. New processes were also set up for the ferries to and from the UK. For the customs organisation, Brexit also meant recruiting and training a lot of additional personnel: between 750 and 930 posts, depending on the final EU-UK trade agreement.”

As well as the necessary customs formalities, Brexit also leads to veterinary and phytosanitary export and import procedures. “For market access and safety, products must comply with a variety of European and British regulations. Inspection services such as the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority will therefore also have to cope with more inspections at the border.”

On schedule
The Brexit date of 31 January 2020 is fast approaching. But there’s still no agreement on the orderly departure of the UK in sight. A no-deal Brexit therefore remains the most likely scenario. Klunder is convinced that, within the given frameworks and preconditions, Customs is as well prepared as possible for a no-deal Brexit. “The recruitment and training of new employees is on schedule. The national and European customs systems have been prepared to deal with the implications of Brexit. Investments have been made in additional workstations, equipment, inspection tools and locations at the ferry terminals. And most ferry companies are already able to cope with the technical customs implications of a no-deal Brexit. Almost all of them are now connected to Portbase’s Port Community System, which is essential for the efficient exchange of information between carriers, terminals and Customs. This allows customs formalities to be settled automatically.”

External investigations by consultancy companies EY, Capgemini and Deloitte have confirmed that the efforts of Customs have paid off. “Of course, that doesn’t mean that we’re going to rest on our laurels now,” says Klunder. “We’re using the period up to Brexit Day to add the finishing touches. For example, we’re still doing dry runs at the ferry terminals and testing whether our IT systems are still stable and Brexit-proof as of 31 January 2020. We will also continue to use all available means of communication to persuade businesses that are not yet well prepared to take action.”

State-wide cooperation
Klunder emphasises that in recent years Customs has worked closely with other government agencies to minimise the harmful effects of Brexit. “Take, for example, the RVO (National Agency for the Entrepreneurship of the Netherlands), with which we developed the so called Brexit counter and Brexit Impact Scan, as comprehensive regulatory tools for business. State-wide consultations have also been set up to steer the ferry process and border controls at the seaports in the right direction and thus reduce the risk of congestion as much as possible. We’re taking part in this with among others the ferry companies, Portbase and the Port Authority. And then there’s the Brexit Transport Table, a meeting focused on the traffic circulation plans developed by the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management with a view to Brexit. These should be coordinated with all parties concerned: municipalities, provinces, ferry companies, port authorities, the police, the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, Customs and the security region. One of the measures taken is the establishment of buffer parking locations at the ferry and shortsea terminals. Lorries can temporarily go to these locations if their customs documents for maritime transport to the UK are not yet in order. This is another solution intended to prevent congestion at the seaport and ferry terminals wherever possible.”

Finally, Klunder reiterates that frictionless logistics after a no-deal Brexit doesn’t depend only on the measures taken by the central government. “If we want to prepare ourselves optimally in the Netherlands, it is important that companies also take timely action. At the end of the day, we’re all in the same boat.”

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