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Northern Ireland haulage firm WS Dennison fears higher costs with Brexit looming on January 31

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Concerns: Pamela Dennison

Concerns: Pamela Dennison

Concerns: Pamela Dennison

A boss at one of Northern Ireland's top haulage firms has said the sector is still in the dark about the burdens Brexit will bring as the UK's exit from the EU looms on Friday.

Pamela Dennison, development manager at WS Dennison, said she was concerned that checks on trade between Britain and Northern Ireland would ultimately push up prices for consumers.

WS Dennis employs 32 people and has depots in Antrim and Limerick.

It is one of the main furniture haulage firms in Ireland, transporting goods from Britain via ports north and south to depots to deliver across Ireland. The UK's exit from the EU formally takes place on Friday under the terms of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

There is a year's transition until December - a period in which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he expects to conclude a free trade agreement with the EU.

Ms Dennison said business here remained in a state of uncertainty about what is to come.

"Business here, especially hauliers like ourselves who use the Irish Sea route regularly and more than a couple of times a day, are still unsure what is going to happen come December 2020.

"The Prime Minister has said no checks will be required but as we understand, customs paperwork is required, with import declarations, safety and security declarations - all paperwork just to get goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland."

She said that she was concerned about hauliers being left bearing responsibility for incomplete customs paperwork, which could leave drivers stranded until matters are resolved.

"A driver could be left in limbo in Cairnryan (a Scottish port linked with Larne), and what welfare facilities will there be?"

She said haulage companies currently preferred to use the link between Dublin and Holyhead in Wales. But she said the likelihood of bottlenecks in Scottish ports would grow, if hauliers flooded Scottish ports instead of routes into the Republic.

She said the industry wanted clarity from Mr Johnson and confirmation there would be no customs processes and paperwork between GB and the UK.

Ms Dennison said the firm had prepared for a no-deal Brexit last year before the Brexit withdrawal agreement in October. But she added: "We are prepared to an extent but we are still guessing and business doesn't guess, that's dangerous for anyone do."

And she said the business had already had to impose price increases after the introduction of low-sulphur fuels, which had added around 20% to their costs.

She said other fuel price increases were also expected to exert pressure on costs, as well as the burdens of preparing for Brexit. And the changes could ultimately mean rising prices for consumers.

"Consumers will then lead the way on finding cheaper way of getting stuff, and businesses like us have to react," she added.

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