Road Transport into the EU: solutions and problems

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Now that the transition period has ended and the EU/UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement* between the EU and UK is in force, how can UK goods and passenger transport operators operate in and through the EU?

It is only a few weeks since the new regime started on 01/01/21 – but some sectors face very significant challenges.

The Agreement contains rules for UK operators operating in, or travelling through, the EU and vice versa. One great fear had been that there would be no agreement reached allowing access into the EU market with other arrangements and/or ECMT permits having to be used as an alternative solution. That problem has now been resolved, at least.

UK Licence for the Community

Whereas before there was an EU Community Licence, the Office of the Traffic Commissioner now issues the UK Licence for the Community to goods and passenger operators.  This permits journeys in the EU but is also recognised in Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.  Operators can also transit through such countries to and from non-EU countries, subject to any additional permits being required by any countries.

Trade and Cooperation Agreement (EU/UK)

The Agreement itself covers the transport of goods or passengers by road “with a commercial purpose”.  There must be a valid operator’s licence, as above, and the drivers must hold a Driver CPC qualification/card.

But, there are limits as to how much work can be done by UK road haulage operators who are limited to a maximum of two journeys in the EU before returning to the UK.  An ECMT permit can assist, giving a third possible movement.

After unloading, UK operators can undertake one laden journey within an EU member state within seven days of unloading goods in that EU member state (whilst an EU goods operator can undertake a maximum of two laden journeys within the UK, again within seven days of unloading).

UK operators can undertake up to two laden journeys between Member States.

However, there can be only a maximum of two journeys within the EU within seven days before returning to the UK. They can be a mix of cross-trade (cross border within the EU – maximum two journeys) or within the EU Member State itself (maximum one movement). Passenger operators cannot conduct regular or special services starting and ending in a Member State.

Whilst this may not present any practical difficulties for some UK goods operators operating into or through the EU there are major, as yet unresolved, difficulties in sectors – e.g. arts, sports, concert and music event touring within the EU, a huge UK export area (in terms of revenue and cultural influence) where the overwhelming proportion of operators are UK-based.  Due to the COVID pandemic these touring events have been suspended, to recommence when this is possible. However, this appears to be a significant obstacle that will bite when we ‘unlock’.

Certain UK industry sectors will simply not be able to as before. For example, on an EU-wide concert tour a band or orchestra will normally play at numerous venues in different EU Member States.  Now, this is seemingly not possible, meaning that alternative arrangements may have to be found, that may be:

  • setting up a new business within the EU, to conduct the goods operations
  • shortened tours and/or more journeys between the UK and EU
  • engaging EU-based operators to provide third party haulage for goods/equipment

Non-commercial Transport

The Agreement does not affect goods and passenger transport movements that are  non-commercial:

Any transport of goods by road for which no direct or indirect remuneration is received and which does not directly or indirectly generate any income for the driver of the vehicle or for others, and which is not linked to professional activity shall be considered as the transport of goods for a non-commercial purpose. (Article 2)


* The Trade and Cooperation agreement between (1) the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community and (2) the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland


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