Brexit chaos could be avoided if freight flows are diverted to other ports

Brexit chaos could be avoided if freight flows are diverted to other ports, new report suggests

Using other UK ports outside of the France-Kent corridor would reduce the risks of delays and congestion after Brexit, according to a new report from the UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG).  

The Study on demand & capacity in the GB-Continent unitload market report says diversifiying freight flows would also "improve the UK’s strategic supply resilience, spread economic activity around the UK and bring important environmental benefits post-Brexit." 

UK ports outside the so-called ‘Shorts Straits’ of the English Channel (via Calais-Dover in particular) offer significant additional capacity for handling EU-UK freight flows, the report notes.

This enhanced capacity could be equivalent to around 60% of 2018 flows or the same again as used Short Straits routes, particularly through roll-on roll-off trailers (unaccompanied RoRo) and short sea container modes. The ports, which include terminals around the country, already have the capacity needed to immediately provide greater resilience for supply chains, including food and other essential goods, in 2021 and beyond.

The report also estimates that the consequences of checks and other changes to the supply chains currently crossing the Short Straights, and restrictions on the ability of EU HGV drivers to operate in the UK, could mean a 22-60% switch in freight volumes to other UK gateways. The report highlights the opportunities of supply chains adapting and maximising the UK’s additional port capacity, while fact-checking some of the alleged constraints – some real, some less so.

Highlighting upcoming changes in border arrangements for the movement of freight, the study,  reflects that the UK will also have to rely on the exports passing through the EU’s customs and border inspection procedures to avoid delays in the UK. This could lead to disruption of supply chains in both directions, emphasising the importance of diversifying freight transport across multiple ports.

The report also outlines environmental benefits from a switch of traffic to a wider network of ports, often closer to the end customer across the UK. This replaces road miles, with associated higher freight emissions and congestion challenges with much lower CO2 sea miles. This broader spread of traffic flows would also support more port and logistics sector jobs across the UK.

Commenting on the launch of the report, Tim Morris (pictured above), CEO of UKMPG, said: “[This] report delivers a clear message – there are ports all around our coast able and willing to bolster the UK’s trading capacity. Realising this additional resilience capacity will deliver crucial benefits to the UK in keeping trade flowing in the short and longer terms, as well as contributing important environmental improvements. We urge cargo owners to intensify their preparations for the new border checks and systems that are coming and carefully review their supply chain options, while Government must provide adequate border infrastructure and maintain a level playing field for ports across the UK.”

Rachel Maclean, EU Transition Minister, said: “Our world-leading ports are fundamental to our success as a global trading nation. We are working with ports across the country to boost capacity and build a greener way of working so they continue to thrive for decades to come.”

The report suggests that the potential reshaping of EU-UK trade flows should increase trade volumes flowing through ports on the East Coast of the UK in particular – from the Thames to Suffolk and onwards to the Humber and the Tees – but also with additional benefits along the South and West coasts. Greater weighting of supply chain resilience and environmental factors would also additionally benefit ports in the north and west.