LONDON — Ports in Britain and across Europe face “gridlock” if the UK and EU fail to agree on a frictionless trade deal, the head of the UK’s shipping lobby said.
Guy Platten, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping, warned on Wednesday that a so-called cliff-edge Brexit — in which Britain leaves the EU without any sort of transitional deal — could cause chaos that would have a knock-on effect around Europe.
Asked what the worst outcome would be for the shipping industry in Britain from Brexit talks, Platten said that this border would end up causing “gridlock” at places like Dover — one of the UK’s busiest lorry ports — and Holyhead, which handles cargo coming to the UK from the West.
A hard border would lead to lengthier checks of cargo passing through ports, adding time to current procedures, which in turn would likely lead to major backlogs at ports. Dover currently handles around 9,000 to 10,000 lorries per day. It currently takes about 20 minutes to process a non-EU truck.
“It is going to be an absolute disaster for the ports and for our sector as well,” Platten said when discussing the same issue in April this year, the Guardian reported at the time.
Any return to a hard border would likely see scenes similar to those seen during the summer of 2015 when French ferry workers went on strike, causing a backlog of trucks that stretched to Maidstone, around 40 miles from Dover, and contained 7,000 lorries.
“It is absolutely critical that UK customs takes this issue seriously and is prepared to handle it from day one because even one day’s delay is disruption to the supply chain and costs to trade,” said Jack Semple, the director of policy at the Road Haulage Association said in February.
Frictionless trade is set to be a core topic during Brexit talks, with the UK looking to establish a brand new trading relationship with the EU as it leaves. As it stands, the UK’s official plan is to leave the customs union in March 2019 and negotiate a totally “new” customs relationship with the EU, which would “minimise disruption” and be as “frictionless” as possible.