It must be a uniquely worrying time for operators of UK Ro-Ro Ferry ports with an uncertain future entirely out of their control.
Speaking in London at the Freight Transport Association’s post-Brexit “Keep Britain Trading” conference, the CEO of the British Ports Association Richard Ballantyne made the case for ‘a frictionless trade agreement between the UK and EU following Brexit’. He reminded his audience there are: “From the point of view of trade and freight flows…potential major challenges. Currently freight on Ro-Ro routes which exclusively serve the EU has no systematic frontier controls and requirements for customs declarations. Ports are by their nature bottlenecks so any delays to freight fl ows at the border can lead to major disruptions and operational challenges”.
He went on to say: “UK Government now has it in its power to design a trade strategy which will not impose new border controls and avoid delays for the logistics sector”.
His statement points out that on Ro-Ro routes which exclusively serve the EU the efficient ‘turn up and go’ nature of the haulage industry means that unlike other parts of the maritime sector (such as bulk and deep sea), ferry operators and freight hauliers do not have easily available load details so any extra customs requirements or checks at the border could easily lead to costly delays for freight operators. Specifi cally on Roll-on Rolloff/ ferry port operations Mr Ballantyne continued:
“The UK Government will need to negotiate a deal which satisfies all European member states but the UK’s closest geographical neighbours in Belgium, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain will have a vested interest in ensuring that potential border requirements and checks at ports do not cause congestion and transport delays”.
I hope this latter point is not just wishful thinking. Negative politics and increasing friction between former EU partners (just look at issues re Gibraltar!) means that common sense and vested interests will not necessarily win the day. Port companies and other UK business sectors have had to be very careful, not wishing to aggravate virulent anti-EU media and politicians nor wanting to worry shareholders - possibly creating fi nancial concerns. But they are in the frontline of the issues that a diffi cult leaving, a so called Hard Brexit, will almost inevitably generate.
I wish they had spelled out these implications more publically though British industry seems to have endeavoured to put a brave face on such matters. The ports industry is said to be “focusing on the opportunities of Brexit and to make it work for the country”. With regard to what the British Ports Association (BPA) believe are positive opportunities for the future, they state they have already put a marker with UK Ministers to consider a new ‘Port Zones’ concept which could see ports classifi ed as areas for economic growth with streamlined planning arrangements and reduced restrictive conditions: stating:“Infrastructure investment and hinterland port connectivity will be options for the Government post-Brexit and the UK ports industry is well placed to provide the vital international gateways for goods, passengers and economic growth”.