Shipping chief claims EU failing to prepare for no-deal Brexit outcome
The head of Britain's shipping industry trade body says the UK Government finally understands the "catastrophic" impact a no-deal Brexit scenario could have on trade, but claims EU authorities are failing to prepare for that outcome.
UK Chamber of Shipping chief executive Guy Platten said the most immediate concern is how a hard Brexit with no transition period would affect the ferrying of freight across the British Channel, with just minute delays resulting in significant back-ups for goods including fresh produce deliveries or car parts for manufacturers.
"The port at Portsmouth has done a little calculation, they reckon if there was just a two minute delay, whilst checks were made, that would add 15 hours onto the day really, in terms of delays," Mr Platten told the Press Association.
"If we then put in a hard customs border, then those delays will have quite catastrophic effects on the supply chain at least in the short and medium term."
The industry body - which represents over 180 shipowners, service companies and industry organisations - has gained the ear of Government in the wake of the Brexit vote and is now holding "regular meetings" with the likes of the Department for Transport and the Department for Exiting the European Union, Mr Platten said.
But while British ministers are now alive to the risks, he claimed EU counterparts have not prepared.
"One of the concerns we have is not so much with the UK Government, who really do get the issue now," he explained.
"But we're not sure our European partners are really doing too much in this area. And that's a concern, because with any system we have here, there has got to be a system on the other side of the border otherwise all we'd be doing anyway is shifting that problem."
He said that recognition has been evidenced by Prime Minister Theresa May's references to frictionless trade and the push for a transitional period, as well as the fact that the ferrying of goods warranted its own section in a Government whitepaper on customs procedures.
"A real concern is what the French authorities and what others are doing, what contingency plans are they making, and we're not seeing so much detail on that."
Others including former cabinet minister Owen Paterson this week said Britain should not be "terrified" of leaving with no deal and trading on World Trade Organisation terms.
The UK Government has floated ideas including the use of a virtual or e-customs border system that would use number plate recognition to allowing lorries to cross without physical checks, barring red flags.
There have also been discussions about having customs hubs further inland in order to create open movement without long queues of lorries at key ports.
"We want more detail, we want more clarification, but at least they're acknowledging that there's a serious issue here and that's really important," the UK Chamber of Shipping boss said.
But Mr Platten warned that action needs to be taken to ensure adequate systems are in place by March 2019.
"We've got less than 18 months to go and if you're going to have to purchase land, and other things to do this, best to start at this moment."