Port of Dover Sounds the Alarm on Post-Brexit Customs

File image courtesy Port of Dover

Published Apr 4, 2017 12:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

Now that the UK has formally handed in its request to leave the EU, the Port of Dover is concerned that the imposition of customs checks could have a disastrous effect on its business. 

Dover is the busiest passenger port in Europe, and it handles 17 percent of the UK's cargo trade thanks to a steady stream of ro/ro tractor trailers, up to 10,000 of them every day. This high volume depends upon the vehicles' ability to depart by road as quickly as they arrive – and that would end abruptly if a hard "Brexit" requires the imposition of customs paperwork and inspections. 

Tim Waggott, the port's CEO, warns that customs could lead to severe delays like those that the port's customers experienced two years ago. "The combination of the strike action and migrant activity in France in 2015 . . . saw operations stacking in place for an unprecedented 30-plus days. We will see that every day of the year in perpetuity if we don't get this situation sorted," he told the BBC. "We already overflow our regular ferry terminal two to three times a week because we're so busy already, and we'd end up with really difficult situations on the road network."

Waggott is not the only person who is concerned; commercial and government stakeholders say that delays could be a serious problem. “We need to avoid checks at port terminals. They are configured for arrive and drive, not wait and queue,” said James Hookham of the UK's Freight Transport Association, speaking to Politico. The EU's lead negotiator on Brexit, Michel Barnier, recently used delays at the Port of Dover as an example of what could happen if Britain and the European Union can't reach a trade deal. "Severe disruption to air transport and long queues at the Channel Port of Dover are just some of the many examples of the negative consequences of failing to reach a deal," he warned. 

Charlie Elphicke, the UK member of Parliament for Dover, warned in a recent interview that Britain needs to be prepared for the possibility that it will not win a favorable deal on trade with the EU, and that it is time to start preparing for customs checks. "I think the first thing that you've got to do is make sure that we've got sufficient investment in infrastructure, that we're prepared and that we've got resilience in the road system," he said. Elphicke suggested moving ahead with a truck parking area, which could be used as a checking area if needed, and upgrading freeway connections. "We've invested tens of millions in Calais, we need to invest in Dover as well," he said.