Brexit: Freight chief warns of severe cross-border restrictions
Only 60 lorry drivers from Northern Ireland will be able to cross the border to the Republic in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to a leading trade association figure.
Seamus Leheny from the Freight Transport Association (FTA) said that many lorry drivers in Northern Ireland would be unable to travel to the Republic of Ireland.
"It's to stop the European market being flooded by hauliers from other countries who could possibly do it cheaper and undermine the internal market," he said.
It had been assumed permits would not be needed to cross the Irish border. However, Mr Leheny said Dublin officials had told him they knew nothing about it.
He said some firms had moved to the Republic to lessen the impact and explained that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for the industry, with travel permits doubling up as death certificates for many companies.
Applications for international road haulage permits closed last week, with many Northern Ireland drivers failing to apply.
Commercial vehicle operators will need ECMT (European Conference of Ministers of Transport) permits to transport goods to the European Union (EU) and EEA (European Economic Area) if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on March 29.
Mr Leheny told Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan show the UK as a whole would be given around 1,200 permits, with Northern Ireland getting a maximum of 5% or 60. He said there were around 20,000 lorry drivers in Northern Ireland, with approximately 13,000 lorries crossing the border each day.
Mr Leheny added that the lack of permits available could be potentially "disastrous" for Northern Ireland.
"The legal situation is that the permits bill went before Parliament last year and government signed off on it. When they were putting in the terminology of what classes as a journey to the EU, they said journeys from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland are not European journeys," Mr Leheny explained.
"They have said you will not need a permit for moving goods from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland and vice versa.
"At the time I thought this was great, then I ran it past some contacts at the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, they came back to me and they said 'we know nothing about this'.
"There's been no bi-lateral deal and no agreement with the EU about this. We still don't have assurances from the EU they would agree to this."
Mr Leheny said the UK Government were in a "panic" over the issue and had asked for the permits to be delayed for nine months to a year. He said the EU were "lukewarm" to the idea.
DUP MLA Jim Wells insisted the claims were the latest "scare story" to put pressure on politicians to reach a Brexit deal.
"The continentals and the Irish require free trade and movement of lorries for their economic needs," he said.
"I've absolutely no doubt if what this gentleman is saying is true it will be sorted out before March 29, because Europe needs us, it needs our trade."
A Department for Infrastructure spokesperson said that the Department for Transport has responsibility for the permits system but that they are "working with colleagues in DfT and will continue to ensure local hauliers have the latest information as it becomes available".