Trade after Brexit – bypassing delays


Sir, – Long lines of lorries queue for hours near the Swiss/German border at Basel. Depending on congestion, lorries may have to wait at customs-controlled traffic lights on the motorway long before they reach the border, then wait in lorry-parks at the Rhein to have their paperwork processed and, if unlucky, to be searched, before crossing. At quiet times a “transit” lorry (passing through the customs area but not loading or unloading) may pass through in as little as ten minutes; at busy times, and for non-transit lorries, delays are typically up to four hours.

The Basel border crossing procedures, the result of years of diligent Swiss-EU co-operation, are a “best-deal Brexit” model for UK/France customs. Even this would represent an enormous increase in travel time for Irish goods to and from the continent via Britain.

Brexit will present a significant challenge for a diverse range of Irish industries. Ireland’s pharmaceutical industry, for example, receives “inputs” from and sends “live” and time-critical “outputs” to pharma plants around Europe.

In theory, the travel time from Dublin to the continent via Britain (Dublin-Holyhead/Dover-Calais) is quicker than direct to France (Rosslare-Cherbourg), for example 18.5 versus 22 hours from Dublin to Paris. After Brexit the Ireland/France route will be more predictable and probably quicker, avoiding the normal congestion on the M4 and M6 as well as customs queues on the M25 and M20 in England, not to mention the actual customs delays.

Using the direct route would also reduce the environmental footprint of goods transported; since transport by ship, per kg/km, generates a quarter of the CO2 emissions of transport by lorry, the CO2 emissions for goods travelling from Dublin to Paris would be halved.

However only 12 ferries per week ply direct Ireland-Continent routes, compared to almost 80 Ireland-Britain per week. Ferry companies might redeploy ships to the direct Ireland-France route. The additional ships, spending ten times as long at sea, would increase the requirement for berthing, fuel storage, maintenance and other facilities, all of which would take months, if not years, to establish.

While Northern Ireland takes 1.5 per cent of Ireland’s exports (and Britain 10 per cent), almost half of all Irish exports (€60 billion per year) go by road via Britain and will pass twice through EU external customs after October 31st.

One can only wish Irish exporters the very best of luck. – Is mise,