North’s ports will find it ‘very challenging’ to be ready for Brexit changes

House of Lords committee told the UK government has not made some crucial decisions about new port infrastructure

“The area of biggest concern would be Northern Ireland, where some of this infrastructure has to be in place from January 1st, and that is currently very challenging.” Photograph: Getty Images

“The area of biggest concern would be Northern Ireland, where some of this infrastructure has to be in place from January 1st, and that is currently very challenging.” Photograph: Getty Images

 

Delays in building border inspection posts and other infrastructure will make it “very challenging” for ports in the North to be ready for new procedures required by Brexit at the end of this year, a House of Lords committee has heard.

Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group, told the sub-committee on EU goods that the British government has not yet made some crucial decisions about new port infrastructure throughout the UK.

“We don’t quite know yet whether the infrastructure will be ready in time because we are currently awaiting the response from the government for the call for tenders, bids for building new border infrastructure,” he said.

“The area of biggest concern would be Northern Ireland, where some of this infrastructure has to be in place from January 1st, and that is currently very challenging.

“And I anticipate that officials in Northern Ireland are looking at minimum viable alternative solutions to provide some stopgap cover there.”

The British government said earlier this year that it would delay the imposition of full post-Brexit controls for goods at its borders until the middle of next year, but the Northern Ireland protocol requires new procedures from January 1st.

Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, suggested that conflicting messages from the British government and the Northern Ireland executive had made preparing for the end of the transition period even more challenging.

“There has been some frustration to be found with Northern Irish port operators, particularly working out what needed to be done. But we understand this is in a slightly better place now, and government has kind of rolled up its sleeves and taken a firmer approach to this.

“But the political element in Northern Ireland is something that port operators have had to juggle, with two administrations looking at what systems and infrastructure needs to be in place.”

New paperwork

The committee also heard from Jean-Marc Puissesseau, chief executive of Calais port, who said that new paperwork would be needed for goods crossing the English Channel regardless of whether a trade deal is agreed later this month.

He compared having the right documentation to carrying a passport to go abroad, and suggested that lorry drivers who forget to fill in the correct forms would not repeat the mistake.

“When you take the plane you have to show your passport. If you don’t have your passport, you stay in Heathrow or you stay in Charles de Gaulle airport. It will be so difficult for them to cross that they will do it maybe one time, they will not forget two times.”