Brexit: road, rail and maritime transport Contents


This report examines the implications of Brexit for UK-EU surface transport, in particular what will be required for road, rail and maritime connectivity under a new UK-EU trading relationship. We consider these matters primarily in the context of a negotiated Brexit, irrespective of the specific form this may take.

In the light of ongoing uncertainty, we also take account of ‘no deal’ preparations on both sides. These measures indicate how some UK-EU connectivity will be maintained in the event both of ‘no deal’ and of a negotiated Brexit that did not include comprehensive transport arrangements. Some contingency options are already established, and could be relied upon over the long-term, whereas others take the form of temporary legislative measures—designed to avoid a ‘cliff-edge’.


Road haulage is the dominant mode of freight transport in the UK, but the UK only accounts for 8% of all road haulage activity in the EU. As part of the EU, the UK benefits from arrangements liberalising haulage between and within Member States.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of future arrangements to preserve UK-EU market access for hauliers. Continued use of the EU’s Community Licence system will maintain the status quo, but a new permit-based system will also be workable, provided such permits are unlimited.

In the absence of a comprehensive agreement, European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) permits and bilateral arrangements with individual Member States will facilitate some EU-UK road haulage, but the former will be insufficient to meet demand, while the latter require negotiation. Despite the importance of continued market access for hauliers, the Government has yet to make its specific negotiating priorities clear. We urge the Government, in close consultation with the haulage industry, to do so now.

Bus and coach travel is also liberalised at the EU level and we call for a UK-EU agreement to maintain reciprocal market access. Without such an arrangement, the Interbus Agreement—a multilateral arrangement—will enable some UK-EU bus and coach journeys, but it does not yet support all types of services. The Interbus Agreement cannot be relied upon to maintain cross-border bus services on the island of Ireland.

Brexit will also have implications for private motorists. Current EU arrangements provide for the mutual recognition of driving licences, and drivers from EU Member States do not need to carry proof of third-party insurance cover when driving in the EU. Without similar successor arrangements, UK drivers wishing to drive in the EU will need to carry an International Driving Permit and Green Card. We are disappointed that the only way for UK drivers to obtain an International Driving Permit is to visit a Post Office. The Government should improve accessibility, including by adding an online option.

Opportunities for regulatory divergence in the road transport sector are few, and likely to be outweighed by the need for market access.


The UK’s rail network connects with the EU through the Channel Tunnel link between Kent and northern France, and through the Belfast-Dublin Enterprise Line. The Government has made clear its intention not to seek an EU-wide agreement on rail, but instead to conclude bilateral agreements, and initially only those necessary to maintain existing services. While these are indeed high priorities, the UK is likely to need a wider set of agreements in future. Given the UK’s broader interests in the rail market, the Government should clarify if it intends to seek arrangements for the mutual recognition of rail certifications and licences with the EU after Brexit.

Regulatory alignment between Member State rail networks is facilitated by the European Union Agency for Railways, with which the Government has ruled out any participation after Brexit. The UK’s railway network is largely domestic and in some circumstances divergence from EU standards will better suit local conditions. We call on the Government to work with the UK rail stakeholders to bring forward details on how post-Brexit divergence on rail standards will be managed.


Maritime arrangements are also important: over 90% of UK trade by volume is carried at sea and UK ports account for 12.5% of seabourne freight handled in the EU. A sizeable proportion of international cargo moved through UK major ports is to or from the EU. In addition, over 20 million passengers travel on sea routes to and from the UK each year. Maritime transport is largely underpinned by international law, with the result that after Brexit UK and EU operators will in most respects be able to access each other’s ports as at present.

Membership of the EU has, however, supported the growth of the UK Ship Register. The UK also benefits from cooperation with the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and access to important EMSA databases. The Government intends to cooperate with EMSA after Brexit, but unless there is an arrangement to maintain UK access to EMSA databases, some will need to be replicated. The UK also has a large seafaring community working in the EU. The Government should seek arrangements to preserve the mutual recognition of seafarer certificates.

Some EU rules are unsuitable for the structure of the UK’s maritime sector and divergence will be beneficial. As with the other transport modes, opportunities for divergence will be limited by the depth of future cooperation with the EU.

Northern Ireland–Ireland

Witnesses impressed upon us the unique demands of Northern Ireland–Ireland transport arrangements. Cross-border bus and coach services in particular are heavily reliant on the liberalised EU framework, so much so that it was necessary for the EU’s ‘no deal’ contingency measures to make a special allowance for passenger transport around the Irish border. The island of Ireland’s distinct economic and social ties may not be best-served by broader UK-EU transport negotiations, and a solution may be found by pursuing a more bilateral approach.


Government engagement with transport stakeholders is high overall, but information does not always filter down to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). We call on the Government to strengthen its efforts to engage with SMEs in the sector.

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