UK Warns of 7,000-Truck Queues After Brexit Transition Period Ends

The Port of Dover's ro/ro terminals handle 17 percent of the UK's foreign trade (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 09-24-2020 08:42:42

Echoing Brexit warnings dating back to 2017, the UK government has issued a new "reasonable worst case scenario" for the transportation impact of completing the UK's exit from Europe without a free trade agreement. The UK formally left the EU in January, but its trade is still covered by a status-quo transition period until December 31. After that point, if Britain and Brussels do not reach an accord for a post-transition trade deal, new border controls "could lead to maximum queues of 7,000 port-bound trucks in Kent and associated maximum delays of up to two days," the government warned. 

The analysis assumes that on the short channel crossings via Dover and the Eurotunnel - which handle a substantial share of British trade with continental Europe - about 30-50 percent of export-bound trucks may not be "border ready." The challenges of turning away these non-ready trucks "could reduce the flow rate to 60-80 percent of normal levels," creating extended delays for freight. Since the delayed trucks will be stuck waiting to leave Britain, they will not be available to pick up EU goods on the other side for the return trip, so trade will likely be disrupted in both directions. 

"We would expect sustained disruption to worsen over the first two weeks as freight demand builds," the government assessed. "There could be a significant drop in disruption and improvement in flow capacity within the first three months as fewer unready [trucks] arrive at the border."

The British Ports Association (BPA), which counts the UK's main ro/ro ports among its membership, said Wednesday that it is essential to ensure that shippers and truckers are aware of the potential for new border requirements on January 1.

"Ports are working to ensure infrastructure is ready but [there] is still a lot to do. In particular . . . policy makers need to agree in respect of specifications for infrastructure," said BPA Chief Executive Richard Ballantyne. "We will now be looking at ways to support the government’s drive to communicate the new requirements to the wider freight and logistics industry to avoid many of the scenarios given in the analysis from arising."

With the EU exit finally approaching, the BPA has also called for government funding to "future-proof" the sector as part of Maritime UK's proposal for a $1.3 billion maritime decarbonization program. The multi-year fund would "support the specific and significant challenges to meet the sector's decarbonization and environmental commitments."

BPA also called for adequate resources for the government itself. "The experience of many ports in all jurisdictions in recent years is one of increasing costs for licensing and planning. In England, for example, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) now charge more than most commercial consultants per hour for their time – yet their service is not a choice, it is a condition for maintenance and development activity. We would like to see regulators properly resourced by government," wrote Mark Simmonds, the head of policy for BPA.