Concern over lack of Brexit readiness at Wales ports – UK committee

Warning in report that Dublin Port checks could delay ferries and affect Welsh ports

 Every year, about 450,000 freight units pass through Holyhead, which is run by the Swedish shipping company, Stena Line.  Photograph: Christopher Furlong/ Getty

Every year, about 450,000 freight units pass through Holyhead, which is run by the Swedish shipping company, Stena Line. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/ Getty

 

A UK parliamentary committee has expressed “deep concern” at the failure to build border customs facilities for Welsh port traffic before Brexit comes into effect on January 1st.

A report from the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee contains a warning that congestion at Dublin Port could disrupt ferry schedules and have a knock-on effect on Welsh ports, specifically Holyhead, the UK’s second busiest port for lorries and road freight transport.

Just over half of the goods passing through Dublin Port go to Holyhead, making the Welsh port a critical transit point for Irish traffic heading to and from Britain and mainland Europe.

The parliamentary committee said Wales was “far from ready for the end of the Brexit transition period” at the end of this month, and it was particularly concerned about the implications of this for Holyhead with significant risks of delays and disruption to trade through the port.

The committee expressed concerns that decisions on the location of inland border control facilities away from Holyhead Port and in southwest Wales, away from Fishguard and Pembroke, have yet to be taken, so close to the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31st.

“Even with expedited planning permission, we warn that this leaves little time to build, and properly equip, sites which will need to be ready for potentially thousands of checks and processes per day,” the committee says in the 48-page report published on Friday.

The committee concludes that there is “a significant and unacceptable risk” that the inland facilities will not be ready for July 1st, 2021 at the end of a six-month phase-in period when the UK government will start applying new post-Brexit customs processes and checks in full.

It has called on the UK government to decide before the end of this month where the facilities will be located and to prepare contingency plans if checks are to be carried out at the port.

The MPs are concerned about the potential implications for Holyhead and the wider region of “new, and untested, IT systems and new, and potentially extensive, checks and processes”.

Every year, about 450,000 freight units pass through Holyhead, which is run by the Swedish shipping company, Stena Line.

The decision to locate checks away from the port was described as a “positive tick”, but the MPs say this risks significant congestion at the inland facility only a few miles from the port.

Ian Davies, director of UK port authorities at Stena, told the committee that traffic coming from Ireland would have relatively “free access” through Holyhead to the inland facilities for checking.

However, Mr Davies expressed concerns that if there was congestion at post-Brexit checking facilities within Dublin Port, it would “put out the schedules of the ferries that operate, which will then have a knock-on effect back in the Welsh ports, because when the freight goods check in at Welsh ports for export to Ireland, they have to meet the pre-clearance for the Irish regulations”.

While he was “not so worried” about congestion caused by goods coming in from Ireland, the consequential effects at Welsh ports in the event of disruption in Irish ports was “a concern.”

The UK government has said that under a reasonable worst-case scenario, 40-70 per cent of lorries could be turned away from the port for having incorrect customs paperwork.

‘Stack’ plans

In case of potential congestion at Holyhead, the Welsh government has plans to “stack” more than 330 lorries at two sites, including 180 at the Roadking food truck stop outside the port, and a further 240 trucks parked up along the A55, the main road across north Wales to Holyhead.

Jeremy Miles, the Welsh government’s counsel general and minister for European transition, told The Irish Times he was confident the stacking plan would cover the worst-case scenario.

Up to 1,000 trucks travel across the Irish Sea on eight ferries every day from Holyhead.

“We are planning on the basis of the reasonable worst-case assumptions that we have got and we are doing all we can to mitigate any disruption,” he said.

Mr Miles told the committee that late engagement with the UK government this year had “lost very significant periods of time” in deciding where the inland checking facilities would be located.

He said the Welsh government wanted to work “as constructively and as quickly as we can” to have the inland customs facilities ready by July 2021 but this was “extremely challenging from where we are now”.

As a temporary measure until a facility is built in Anglesey, lorries arriving from Ireland will be directed to sites in England, at Birmingham and Warrington, for post-Brexit customs checks.