Brexit “planning is not enough”

Port of Dover Project Brock is intended to manage traffic and lorry-queuing at the Port of Dover. Credit: Port of Dover

To enable the ports and maritime industry to move beyond planning for Brexit and start taking action, the UK government could be clearer about EU exit scenarios and the likely consequences of these, the chief executive of the United Kingdom Major Ports Group has said.

Speaking to Port Strategy following a warning of “major disruption” at ports by the UK parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, Tim Morris said this is needed so industry players can start “pushing the button” on some of the contingency plans that they have made.

He said: “If we’re going to be ready for a certain set of scenarios for March 29, just planning is not enough. People need to be starting to take action because that action will not only help them but also sends the right signals to other markets to take action.

If companies begin carrying out plans now then there is a much better chance the market will be able to deliver a greater degree of flexibility and diversity in what they can choose, he explained.

Poor progress

The UK parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has said “there is a real prospect of major disruption at our ports,” in its latest report in a series looking at Government’s preparations for Brexit.

Stating that there is a real risk that the Department for Transport will not be ready in the event of the UK departing the EU without a negotiated deal, the Commons Select Committee said that slow progress and poor communication around work to avoid disruption, through schemes such as Project Brock, is concerning.

It said businesses are not being given enough information to prepare and plan, while time is running out for the necessary legislation to be passed with adequate time for scrutiny.

Public Accounts Committee Chair Meg Hillier MP commented: “With so little time remaining, there is still much to do. The risks associated with no-deal are severe, yet plans for avoiding disruption around major ports in particular are worryingly under-developed.”

Mark Simmonds, policy manager at British Ports Association, said: “We have been working very closely with Government officials from across Whitehall on preparations and they are well aware of the challenges faced by some ports.

“Much of these discussions have been conducted under non disclosure agreements of which the Committee has criticised. While we have welcomed the Government’s confidence, an open discussion with ports, hauliers, carriers and our counterparts in the EU could only help in looking at a workable solution to potential scenarios.”

Dover concerns

Ms Hillier said that the Department for Transport has yet to carry out proposed desk-based testing of the GB£30-35m Project Brock, which is intended to manage traffic and lorry-queuing at Dover. Engagement with businesses on the project has been poor, she added.

Mr Morris pointed out that it shouldn’t be assumed that Dover represents the whole sector or that all the sector faces all the same issues and challenges as Dover. “Other ports are available and ready to provide alternatives to particularly congested routes,” he stressed.

In terms of port development plans in the longer term, in places including Immingham, Teeside and the Thames, he suggested the government should look to speed up the approvals process and make them happen quicker to grow capacity.

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