Worried about no deal Brexit? ‘It’s all hype’, claims senior freight industry source

A ship docked at Felixstowe Port/ Picture: Ed Taylor, r_e_d_r_o_c_k_e_t

A ship docked at Felixstowe Port/ Picture: Ed Taylor, r_e_d_r_o_c_k_e_t - Credit: Archant

A source who is senior in the East Anglian freight forwarding community has stated that he cannot understand why Chris Grayling has pledged £140m for extra ferries to sail across the English Channel in the event of a no deal Brexit, because it’s the extra documentation - not a lack of ferries - that would cause the hold-ups.

The source, who cannot be identified for legal reasons but represents the Anglian forwarding community in his role, believes that ferry capacity wouldn’t be a problem. “The potential problem is the possible extra documentation, and that’s what will slow everything down,” he explained. “As long as HMRC and the EU allow simplified documentation, there should not be any delays.”

Because Felixstowe is a deep sea port that receives trade mostly from the Far East and the Americas, rather than Europe, it will “hardly be hampered” by a hard or no deal Brexit, the source explained.

“The trailers that come from Europe are a small part of the business at Felixstowe. The roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) ferries arriving at Felixstowe only have a few driver accompanied units all the rest are unaccompanied trailers.

“The trailers are loaded on the ferries in Rotterdam, for example, and come into Felixstowe with a maximum of ten drivers - compared to Dover, where you might have 100 lorries and everyone is driven off. The unaccompanied cargo often sits on the quay at Felixstowe for 12 to 48 hours, then a local haulier comes and takes the trailer away for final delivery.

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“That’s why a no deal Brexit won’t be an issue for Felixstowe, because if the freight does need to be customs cleared, there is plenty of time to arrange it. And with the port’s automated community computer system Destin8 (which was introduced last summer) developed and run in, it will be handled like any other arrival.”

Hutchison Ports, which operates Felixstowe Port, announced earlier this month that ro-ro capacity at the port is about to be boosted by more than 40% - not because of Brexit concerns, according to the source, but because the ferry operators are confident of increasing trade.

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Although Associated British Ports, which runs Ipswich Port, has claimed that Ipswich Port could potentially step in in the event of a no deal Brexit to take on some of Dover’s capacity, the freight forwarding expert said it would not happen “at the drop of a hat”.

“We are sure they’d love to step in,” he explained. “But there aren’t any ro-ro services currently going into Ipswich - there used to be until not that long ago, but it was uneconomical because of the long voyage up the river to Ipswich. It’s the same argument as at Ramsgate. Both ports are uneconomical, because you can’t compete with the speed of crossing to Europe via the Channel Tunnel and Dover.

“But if it becomes financially viable to run ro-ro ferries from Ipswich, then they will do it.”

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