Haulage group frozen out of Whitehall after being 'hijacked by Remainers'

·4 min read
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Britain’s biggest haulage lobbying group has been frozen out of meetings with ministers following claims it is biased against Brexit and deliberately sparked last month’s fuel crisis.

As businesses battle a national shortage of lorry drivers, relations between the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and the Government have entered a "deep freeze", sources said.

It came as a leading lorry company quit the organisation and claimed it has been "hijacked by Remain".

The trade body - which speaks for thousands of logistics firms across the UK - has been disinvited from round table discussions with Whitehall officials since late September, sources said, while meetings with civil servants have been cancelled at short notice and the organisation has been denied facetime with ministers.

The cold treatment follows a row with the Department for Transport over last month’s fuel crisis.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, accused the RHA of leaking comments from a confidential call in which BP said it was reducing deliveries to some petrol stations because of a driver shortage. This triggered panic buying which emptied pumps across Britain.

The RHA denies responsibility and insists it wants to work constructively to tackle the lorry driver shortage.

But yesterday a senior government source said trust between the two sides was currently "broken", and that meetings with rival trade body Logistics UK were being prioritised instead.

The source said: “The RHA shot themselves in the foot with this leak. At the moment the relationship is in a deep freeze - and it will take a long time to repair. It will have to be shown that they can be a trustworthy partner.”

Some government figures have suggested the RHA leaked details about reduced petrol stocks so that ministers would come under pressure to ease visa restrictions for foreign lorry drivers - a key demand of the group in recent months.

But the RHA dismissed those claims as a "disgraceful" attempt to divert attention away from the Government’s own failings.

Yesterday it did not deny relations had soured but appealed for fresh discussions.

A spokesman said: “It is entirely untrue that the RHA was in any way to blame for panic at the fuel pumps: indeed, our spokesman appeared on TV to repeatedly stress fuel stocks were high and there was no need to panic buy.

“We have thousands of members who have very real concerns about the driver shortage and the Government’s handling of it. We are not a negative organisation and are keen to talk about solutions.

“We would love to talk to the Government about this and think we have positive and creative solutions. Why would they not want to engage with someone with solutions, irrespective of previous events?”

The war of words came as the RHA faced a broadside from one of its own members, which claimed the group had been hijacked by anti-Brexit figures.

Andrew Baxter, chief executive of logistics firm Europa Worldwide, said his company was quitting the group after being “appalled by the way it has conducted itself over recent years”.

He said the RHA had presided over a steady souring of relations with the Government since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The group officially took no position on the vote, but it has blamed Britain’s exit from the EU for exacerbating the lorry driver shortage and piling extra paperwork on haulage firms.

Mr Baxter said: “We have a haulage industry body that is not effectively representing the industry.

“The RHA has been hijacked by people who passionately believe in Remain and at every turn want to make some Brexit-related point.

“I don’t think that’s constructive. All they are doing is alienating people in Government instead of putting forward realistic policy proposals.

"I know lots of other people in our sector who are also unhappy about what is happening in the RHA but they do not want to put their heads above the parapet."

He has called for Richard Burnett, the RHA’s chief executive, to be replaced with someone who can repair relations with ministers.

The RHA said it had never expressed a view on Brexit and respects the UK’s democratic decision to leave the European Union.

A spokesman added: "However, we have at times reflected our own members' concerns and their worries were communicated to government and officials as part of our normal activity on behalf of them."

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