The changing face of Britain’s transport industry

Brexit is already changing the way goods come into this country, a host of businesses have told Sky News.

As the October 31 deadline for Brexit approaches, many importers have shifted from using Dover as their main port of entry to using other ports, including the Humber ports. Some have switched from using lorries (known in the trade as roll-on roll-off cargo) to using containers instead.

Throughout the post-referendum period there has been much focus on the challenges facing Dover, which could face congestion and tailbacks along the M20 motorway in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Dover’s constraints – its reliance on accompanied roll-on roll-off cargo and its shortage of space for “stacking” lorries in the event of delays – have led some to assume this will be the case in all ports.

However, speaking to Sky News, Simon Bird, Humber Ports Director at Associated British Ports said: “I absolutely do know there is some trade that is moving from roll-on roll-off through that Dover-Calais link to the container operations that we have here on the Humber.”

He added that with plans underfoot to provide more parking space for lorries, the Humber ports “certainly have well developed plans to cope with any eventuality….we have more capacity here to handle what might materialise on day one of no-deal”.

A number of retailers, including DIY firm Kingfisher and clothing brand Next, have said in recent weeks that they have made plans for diverting their goods via different ports in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Next said while it had little cargo coming in via Dover, “as a precaution we have already taken measures to move most of that traffic to alternative ports or airports”.

These accounts are borne out by broader statistics on trade which show volumes at Dover falling since the referendum while most other major British ports have seen an increase. In 2018 Dover had just under 2.5 million lorries passing through – the lowest number since 2014.

But while many of Britain’s ports say they are now as ready as they can be even for a no-deal Brexit, they add that much depends on how EU counterparts behave, since if they impose onerous checks on incoming UK cargo that could cause disruption at both ends.

In a recent statement, the Port of Dover said: “The Port of Dover, as with our sister ports in France and our ferry partners, are prepared for the 31st of October. Merchants, border agencies and highway authorities also have pivotal roles to play in ensuring the system continues to operate smoothly.”

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