Without a transitory agreement which governs the customs at ports, May is likely to find it hard to provide seamless, frictionless trade.
As per the head of Britain’s ports and shopping industry, the introduction of physical customs checks following Brexit would have a catastrophic impact on British ports and the shipping industry since it would most likely see a significant reduction in trade volumes.
Although British Prime Minister Theresa May has stated that she wants a customs arrangement in place with the EU which allows trade to be “as frictionless as possible”, the reality of the matter is that no system will be as seamless as the existing one with Britain within the bloc.
“The nightmare scenario is actually having physical customs borders … it would be absolutely a catastrophe for the ports and for our sector,” said Guy Platten, the Chief Executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping.
He went on to add, “You’ve suddenly got lorries stacked up, you’ve got sailings canceled … the whole supply chain is completely affected.”
According to the UK Chamber of Shipping, 95% of Britain’s international trade is carried out through ships and the industry supports 250,000 jobs.
On England’s south coast, Dover, which is Europe’s busiest ferry port, routinely handles 8,000 EU and 500 non-EU trucks a day, said Platten.
If EU trucks were to face the same custom checks as the non-EU trucks, the entire process will come to a grinding halt which would significantly effect lorries carrying fresh food.
“The sailings will still take place, but maybe they won’t be able to fit in as many sailings as they could do before … so that will affect the business of those ferry companies and potentially the viability of routes,” said Platten.
UK’s Chamber of Shipping currently represents 170 firms including European companies such as France’s Brittany Ferries, Sweden’s Stena Line and Denmark’s DFDS.
Customs control within the EU were scrapped in 1993. Between 1992 and 2015, the volume of lorries passing through Dover has increased by 150%.
Platten has highlighted the need for the British government to reach an early agreement on customs during the Brexit negotiations as customs check will require new infrastructure which will take time to be put into place during which time British ports will struggle to physically accommodate the transitory goods.
“I’ve yet to find a politician who is prepared to sacrifice jobs in his local area for political points,” said Platten.