In the wake of a deal on the draft withdrawal agreement between the European Union and the UK, the British Ports Association, representing the interests of over 100 port members, has warned that it could be some time before it is clear what the final arrangements will mean for ports.
“We are hopeful that the agreement will include some kind of lasting solution which would rule out the need to introduce new customs and border checks for UK-EU trade,” BPA Chief executive Richard Ballantyne said.
“However, despite the apparent progress, there could be some way to go before ports and freight operators will know exactly what trading environment will be. Hauliers and freight operators using the UK’s network of ‘Roll-on Roll-off’ ports such as Dover, Holyhead, Immingham and Portsmouth will still not be sure what the post-Brexit border processes will look like.”
The prospect of leaving the EU could be relatively non eventful for ports handling bulk loads or containers, where exiting processes and systems should be easier to adapt.
However accommodating new customs and regulatory controls at both UK and EU Roll-on Roll-off ports could be much more challenging. Such ports collectively handle tens of thousands of both driver accompanied and unaccompanied HGV vehicles and trailers travelling between the UK and the EU each day. This is more than half of the UK’s trade with Europe and has been estimated to be 40% of the value UK’s total maritime trade.
According to BPA, the potential for new time consuming and costly processes for freight operators using this sector remains a daunting prospect.
“Aside from the implications on new border and frontier processes, we are also keen to establish what the agreement will mean in terms of the regulatory environment under which ports operate. Depending upon what a final deal might look like there could be opportunities for the Government to review certain rules stemming from the EU such as the Ports Services Regulation and create a planning and consenting regime which is more conducive to port development, activities and trade,” Ballantyne added.
Theresa May’s Cabinet have supported the draft deal after months of extensive and difficult negotiations between the two sides. Based on what is known at this moment, the 500-page deal stipulates for a standstill transition period until the end of 2020 when the two sides are expected to reach a trade deal.
The deal covers financial settlement for the separation, the rights and EU and British citizens in UK and the EU respectively and a mechanism aimed at ensuring there is no hard border between Ireland, in the bloc, and Northern Ireland, in the United Kingdom, as reported by the New York Times.