Currently, it takes an average of just two minutes to clear a truck through the port of Dover since the UK is a member of both Transit and the EU’s single market and customs union. Freight is still subject to random inspection, of course, and measures are in place to interdict illegal immigrants stowing away on trucks or being deliberately hidden. The port handles up to 10000 trucks per day and £122 billion of trade each year. Brexit puts all of this at risk unless comparable (well, let’s be frank, the existing) arrangements are in place after Brexit or the transitional period (if agreed).
The latest body to spell out the unforeseen consequences of Brexit is Maritime UK, the body representing the shipping industry and ports. As an island nation, the UK is subject to the gods of weather which can make sea crossings to perilous to undertake and certain French syndicats (unions) which can close a port more securely than any storm. When either of these two factors come into play, the UK authorities activate “Operation Stack” which uses Kent’s motorways as a giant lorry park.
Maritime UK’s chairman, David Dingle, has warned that without a post Brexit agreement, the UK’s shipments to the continent could be snarled up in 20-mile tailbacks with drivers waiting two days to make the crossing. “You could have a permanent Operation Stack for 20 miles, it [the traffic] will just sit there. Drivers can be stuck for days, it [Stack] can be horrendous. We are lost in politics. The meltdown will come back to the roll-on, roll-off ports. We are shouting loudly about this, we have been for a while, but you do feel you are banging your head against a brick wall.”
Delays in deliveries of goods would likely be fatal to the UK’s highly integrated car manufacturing industry which relies on the “just in time” delivery of components sourced across Europe that make multiple UK-EU border crossings during the assembly of the vehicle which is then often imported to markets in the EU. Perishable food supplies would also be affected – half of the UK’s food supply comes from the European mainland and the Republic of Ireland, a key supplier of dairy produce, mushrooms and beef.
“Our message is: please, government, can you do this as quickly as possible because if there is no transition period the industry as a whole will be in trouble and the whole logistics chain will be in major trouble,” Dingle concluded.