Post-Brexit ‘Armageddon’ at Dover could be avoided by diverting ships to east coast

he UK shipping industry could avoid a post-Brexit “Armageddon scenario” by diverting sea cargo from Dover to eastern ports such as Felixstowe, Britain’s largest port operator has said.

In a policy paper presented to the government this week, Associated British Ports (ABP) called for the UK to reduce its dependency on Dover and instead invest in ports on the Thames, East Anglia and the Humber, among others.

The operator said this would reduce disruption to trade by removing the risk of a bottleneck of traffic in Dover, which handles £120bn in imports and exports per year.

It comes after Tim Waggott, the head of the port of Dover, warned it was facing a possible “Armageddon scenario” of chronic delays and traffic congestion due to the risk of lengthy customs checks after Brexit.

 Cars and trucks queue up to get into the port of Dover
 Cars and trucks queue up to get into the port of Dover Credit:  Peter Macdiarmid/LNP

ABP also urged the government to consider establishing Free Ports on the east coast, which would abolish duties on imported raw materials or components used in manufactured exports.

“Ports and maritime represent a major global opportunity for the UK economy; an opportunity for Britain to increase its trade with countries throughout the world,” said James Cooper, ABP’s chief executive.

”To deliver on that potential, we want to see an industrial strategy that is capable of being genuinely transformative: transforming the nation’s ability to trade and export, and transforming our prospects for continued economic growth and success in a competitive, global marketplace.”

In its 10-point plan, ABP said this could be achieved by setting up a “UK Ports and Logistics Brexit Task Force” which would oversee the process of diverting cargo from Dover.

The proposals were welcomed by Rishi Sunak, the Conservative MP, who said he was “delighted” to hear that Free Ports may be established on the east coast.

Rishi Sunak MP welcomed the proposals
Rishi Sunak MP welcomed the proposals

“Free Ports are an exciting post-Brexit policy idea that can turbo charge economic growth in our regions, boost manufacturing and drive exports,” he said.

“I am delighted the UK’s leading port operator ABP has led many other businesses in urging the Government to join countries around the world and embrace Free Ports.”

Mark Garnier, a minister at the department for international trade, added: “As an international economic department we want to create more trading connections throughout the world, and we welcome ABP’s contribution to the debate on how that can be achieved.”

However, Charlie Elphicke, the MP for Dover, was less enthusiastic about the plans.

He said: “Everyone knows that the fastest, most efficient and best route for trade to the Continent is through Dover – and we’re working tirelessly to see that it stays that way.”

“Just today I was at the Port of Dover with ministers and officials discussing how we can be ready on day one to have seamless trade continue between Dover and the French Channel ports.”

The impact of Brexit on the UK’s shipping industry has been a major concern for businesses as more than 90 per cent of the world’s trade is carried by sea.

Theresa May has vowed to maintain “frictionless” trade between the UK and the EU, even after the UK leaves the customs union and the single market.

However, shipping chiefs say leaving the customs union may force border officers to carry out time-consuming checks on vehicles which risk leading to gridlock at ports.

One possible solution to this would be higher government spending on road infrastructure and customs technology, according to Mr Elphicke’s report on the challenges faced by Dover, “Ready on Day One.”

Source: Daily Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk), 16 September 2017

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