Logisticians say ‘I told you so’ to UK Government

The United Kingdom’s Poole Port, is one of the facilities that could see an increase in freight traffic following a no deal Brexit.

Exasperated hauliers and shippers in the United Kingdom and Europe say that the complexities of supply chains have only recently been recognized by politicians, who they say were previously in denial.

British government advice for a “no deal Brexit” and its estimates of how much congestion there would be in the Dover/Folkstone region of England were hopelessly inaccurate, said a hauliers’ and shippers’ representative.

Government advice, in the form of a Partnership Pack that was first published in October 2018 and updated just before Christmas, reveals that only 12 to 25 percent of vehicles would be handled in the region following a hard Brexit. That is considerably fewer than was first announced, James Hookham, Deputy Chief Executive at the Freight Transport Association and the secretary general at the Global Shipper’s Forum, told FreightWaves.

Hookham added, “These figures imply a considerable loss of capacity [in the event of a no deal Brexit] and will put pressure on logistics managers to find alternative routes [for cargo].”

He went on to criticize ministers for their complacency. “Ministers are too far removed from the industry. All ministers [including the former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and the current transport minister Chris Grayling] have said a no deal Brexit is no problem by implication. As a representative of the [logistics] industry, my concern is that politicians have talked up the idea that we can manage a no deal withdrawal, but they are more and more coming to understand that no deal is not an option.”

Should the latest figures of a cut in the rail and ferry capacity by a worst case 88 percent occur, then the previous estimates of a 17-mile tailback of trucks on motorways out of the region would also be way off. With about 10,000 trucks passing through Dover daily, the estimates could more than double, if it is assumed that only half of the vehicles handled were for export goods.

Hookham also argued that putting provisions in place for more ferry capacity at other ports was only part of the answer, “Ancillary services must not be overlooked. Drivers will have to confront whatever border services are in front of them, but what will the driver facilities at ports on the east coast [of Britain] be?” he asked.

The two responsible Government departments, the Home Office and the Department for Transport, outlined their plans for meeting the challenges that Brexit could present in response to FreightWaves’ questions.

The Home Office said it is developing “detailed contingency plans that could be necessary in the event of a no deal withdrawal.” However, officials said the government was planning for all potential outcomes, with the vote on the government’s deal expected in the week of 14 January.

In addition, “Border Force [the entity responsible for customs at Britain’s borders] has already recruited a Readiness Task Force to provide operational resilience to the front line and allow existing staff to undertake European Union (EU) exit-related training.”

Home Office expectations are that around 900 full-time employees will be recruited and trained by the end of March in readiness for the country’s withdrawal from the EU. These new staff will make certain that Border Force will “have sufficient resilience at the border and begin to develop a pipeline of resource to respond to future requirements as a result of EU exit,” said a Home Office spokesperson.

Meanwhile, a Department for Transport spokesperson said that, “This significant extra capacity is a small but important element of the Department for Transport’s no-deal Brexit planning.

“While remaining committed to working to ensure a deal is reached successfully, the Department is helping ensure the rest of Government are fully prepared for a range of scenarios, including a particular focus on a potential no deal and to mitigate the impact of any Brexit outcome on all transport modes.”

Even so, the 10 percent increase in capacity that the agreements reached with DFDS (a  leading Danish ferry operator, which offers frequent ferry crossings to Europe from the UK), Brittany Ferries and Seaborne Freight offer are modest. Ports in Poole, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Immingham and Felixstowe will handle an equivalent of 1,000 trucks per day, reducing the overall throughput in the Dover area to 9,000 lorries.

The Department for Transport insists that the “move is part of the extensive work undertaken by the Government to prepare for an unlikely no deal scenario. The Government are taking necessary steps to ensure minimal disruption from the day we leave the EU no matter the outcome of negotiations.”

Hookham conceded that the requirements for border staff may not be difficult to meet for a small number of sailings per day. But he added we have heard nothing about ancillary staff, port and shore workers or staff at inland logistics centres.

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Nick Savvides, Staff Writer

Nick came to FreightWaves in December 2018 from Fairplay, a shipping market publication. He covers the shipping, freight and logistics industry in Europe. Since starting his career as a journalist in 1990, Nick has worked for a number of significant freight publications abroad, including International Freighting Weekly, the online news service for Containerisation International, ICIS, the chemical industry reporting service, as well as Seatrade in Greece. Nick also worked as a freelance journalist writing for Lloyd’s List, The Observer, The Express and The European newspapers among others before joining Seatrade Newsweek in Athens.