Duty-free booze cruise pulls back into port

Cantillon: Brexit upheaval sees fewer truck drivers but surge in onboard alcohol sales

For businesses, there is little comfort to be found in the heavy bureaucratic curtain that has fallen around Britain when its departure from the EU came into effect at the start of the year, and that curtain will only get thicker when the UK’s import controls start next year.

The vast volume of paperwork that now must be filled in for produce crossing the Irish Sea is no fun and is one of a myriad of reasons why eastern European lorry drivers decided to stay at home following Covid lockdowns and why British supplies have been so disrupted.

The nature of trade between Ireland and Britain has, sadly, gone back in time, to the 1980s, before the existence of the EU single market. Figures this week from Stena Line, the largest Irish Sea ferry operator, return us to another feature of a bygone era of trade: the duty-free booze cruise. Stena reported a fivefold increase in duty-free sales on its Dublin-Holyhead and Rosslare-Fishguard routes in the month of August as people used the relaxation in Covid travel restrictions from July to take advantage of post-Brexit duty-free purchases of booze on Irish Sea routes for the first time since Britain's exit.


Cheap duty-free return tickets and even cheaper booze on board makes the boat journey attractive for those chasing cheap alcohol deals. There are already “non-landers” who are just there for the alcohol – passengers who don’t even bother to disembark – but they are GB to ROI travellers for now, though Stena expects ROI-to-GB non-landers when more restrictions are lifted.


Elsewhere, Brexit is generating good business on other seas. DFDS, the Danish ferry company that launched the Britain-bypassing Rosslare-Dunkirk direct route at the start of the year, said on Friday it had transported more than 40,000 freight units since January, right on target. Notably, 35 per cent of these units were unaccompanied, which may point to the future and a driverless-solution to the driver-shortage problem being experienced everywhere, but most acutely in Britain.

DFDS expects to carry another 20,000 freight units between now and Christmas so it looks like this direct route – and the duty-free booze trips on the Irish Sea routes – are here to stay.