As government negotiations to facilitate Britain’s exit from the European Union gather pace, the UK Chamber of Shipping says the EU is ignoring the risk Brexit could bring to European ports. According to one group of MPs the increase would be five fold and confidence in border arrangements post Brexit is alarmingly low. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have told the Treasury select committee that it estimates a customs declaration rise from 60million a year to over 300million a year after the UK leaves the EU.
Chief executive of the chamber, Guy Platten, said: “The EU sells £240bn of goods to the UK each year, most of which travels through ports. So the negative impact of a so-called hard Brexit on ports such as Dover will be felt just as severely if not more so by European ports. I don’t think the EU has fully grasped this yet.”
The chamber said the proposed return of border controls would lead to increased bureaucracy, “guaranteed” lorry gridlock and threats to the prosperity of both EU member states and the UK. Platten continued: “Much of the attention on the impact of leaving the customs union has been on UK ports, but major EU ports such as Calais, Zeebrugge and Dublin would find themselves equally as vulnerable. The UK government understands the importance of sorting this out around the negotiating table, but we are yet to see evidence that the EU negotiators fully understand their own vulnerability.”
Dover has no room to expand from its 2.6 million lorries a year, and Eurotunnel, which caters for 1.6 million lorries a year faces the same issue. John Keefe, its spokesman, said: “On one side of Eurotunnel we have an area of outstanding beauty, so you can’t build to the left, and on the right we have the motorway; then you have to look at moving up, down, or back along the motorway.” Earlier this year, senior freight industry leaders including Eurotunnel said the introduction of customs checks at Dover after Brexit could cause gridlock in south-east England, with lorries queueing in Kent for up to 30 miles (48km) to get across the Channel.
In the summer of 2015, a French ferry workers strike led to more than 7,000 trucks backed up the motorway almost as far as Maidstone. With as many as 16,000 trucks a day using Dover, the potential for a repeat of that episode alarms business. An emergency traffic management strategy at the time, called Operation Stack, is estimated to have cost the Kent economy £1.5m a day, with parts of the M2 turned into a vast lorry park.
Concerns that this could be the case again seem to be well founded, and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of a hard and fast plan for the UKs customs situation. With under two years to go until this would have to come into force, decisions need to made fast.