Port closures an “extreme” measure

Port of Dover The BPA said it will be critical to keep UK ports (including Dover, pictured) open. Photo: Port of Dover
Industry Database

A new UK bill that could see individual ports temporarily close due to the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) should only be used in extreme circumstances, a port body has said.

Responding to the publication of the Government’s policy paper on its new Emergency Bill, the British Ports Association said keeping the UK’s global gateways open for trade should be a priority. Regarding the power of the legislation to temporarily close ports and suspend operations, the BPA said it would expect it to only be used where necessary and proportionate, and for the minimum period necessary.

Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, said: “Half of the UK’s food is imported and it will be critical to keep our ports open so that shops, public services, and businesses are supplied with what the country needs.

“The industry is generally very supportive of the Government’s measures to bring the pandemic under control and is working hard to keep goods moving. Also we would expect that proposed new powers to potentially close individual ports will only be used in the most extreme circumstances.”

The BPA added: “We would expect a sunset clause on these powers so that they expire once the pandemic is brought under control.”

Mr Ballantyne pointed out the BPA has been learning from the experiences of port professionals in Italy, where ports have remained open.

Many ports have closed to cruise ships due to coronavirus, while supply chain disruption has seen commercial trade operations affected in ports globally.

The new Bill will enable the Home Secretary to request that port and airport operators temporarily close and suspend operations if Border Force staff shortages result in a real and significant threat to the UK’s border security.

This is to ensure the UK can maintain adequate border security throughout the pandemic and protect the public from the threat of criminality or importation of prohibited items that could result from an inadequately controlled border.

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