Breaking down Brexit: The Dover Port question
As Brexit talks deepen, uncertainty over trade and border issues remain among the most contentious topics. On one hand, there have been positive outcomes from the talks since our last update on Brexit customs negotiations four months ago. Theresa May’s government managed to strike a final agreement with the European Commission (EC) on “no hard border” between the Republic and Northern Ireland, which the haulier industry welcomed with open arms.
Meanwhile, the Port of Dover has been in the news this week for reaching a record number of freight figures for the fifth year in a row. This has raised new concerns about post-Brexit customs and the world’s biggest passenger port. Now that EC President Jean-Claude Juncker has asserted talks have made ‘sufficient progress’ to move on to Phase 2 of transition and trade negotiations, there is also hope that a similar “no hard border” agreement could be made with other European Union (EU) countries, particularly for free-flowing lorry traffic across the Channel.
The transition deal we need
Naturally, the haulier industry is among the loudest in calling for a transitional deal that will guarantee transparency and certainty to businesses both in the UK and the EU. Above all, we need trade to flow freely to and from the UK to ensure efficient road freight operations. As Road Haulage Association (RHA) chief executive, Richard Burnett, declares: “The Phase 2 negotiations need to remove the uncertainty that is currently faced by a large number of traders over the matter of future Customs declarations once the UK leaves the EU.”
Some of the largest lobbyists representative of the British haulier industry remain relatively optimistic. Says Robert Keen, Director General of the British International Freight Association (BIFA): “The focus for the UK Government must now be on agreeing a transition deal, and explaining to business and the country as a whole what kind of trading relationship it is looking for in the long-term.”
Meanwhile, Pauline Bastidon, Head of European Policy at the Freight Transport Association (FTA), warns the action must happen now and not later to prevent any potential damage. “Two years is a very short time,” says Bastidon. “It is imperative that business is given sufficient notice to adopt new practices and systems, and ensure that they are correctly staffed to keep Britain trading.”
The view from Dover
Part of the problem with Dover is the limited staff and inefficient facilities, according to employees of the Port. Alfie Matthews, a customs broker in Dover, told the Express he believes fears of endless queues of lorries can be settled by introducing more sophisticated border technology.
Matthews is among a growing number of people in the industry calling for the introduction of elaborate computer systems to deal with all the added paperwork that could result from the UK’s exit from the customs’ union. This could help manage the influx of paperwork against limited human resources in the customs offices, as well as from the fleet operators’ side.
Meanwhile, the British Port Association (BPA) running the Port is putting their hopes on a “no hard border” deal, staying: "We would encourage both sides to explore options that ensure the cross-border solution for the Irish land border is replicated elsewhere in the UK as this would enable trade with Europe to pass as smoothly as possible through our ports.” That’s yet to be seen as the rest of the EU’s 27 nations meet at the end of this month to finalise their trade and transition guidelines ahead of formal Phase 2 talks. We’ll keep you updated on the Total Truck Solutions portal as legislation proceeds.