Government ignorance explains Brexit approach

The transport industry has been increasingly stunned by wild suggestions from Brexit enthusiasts and government ministers. Now we know the source of this nonsense: ignorance. Dean Stiles, editor Cold Chain News, reflects on comments by Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, who admits he “hadn’t quite understood” how reliant UK trade in goods is on the Dover-Calais crossing.

“The Brexit Secretary’s remarks came at a technology conference as he discussed the “bespoke arrangement” the UK sought with the EU after it leaves the bloc.
For the record, and to help the rest of lunatic mob braying to leave the EU, Dover is “a key artery for UK trade heading to continental Europe” with more than 2.5m heavy goods vehicles passing through the port every year. And that according to the Institute for Government.

Raab told a technology conference on Wednesday: “We want a bespoke arrangement in goods which recognises the peculiar, frankly, geographic, economic entity that is the United Kingdom.

“We are, and I hadn’t quite understood the full extent of this, but if you look at the UK and if you look at how we trade in goods, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing.

“And that’s one of the reasons why, and there’s been a lot of controversy about this, but one of the reasons why we wanted to make sure that we have a very specific and very proximate relationship with the EU to ensure frictionless trade at the border, particularly for just-in-time manufacturing goods whether it’s pharmaceutical goods or perishable goods like food.”

“I don’t think it’s a question so much of the risk of major shortages but I think probably the average consumer might not be aware of the full extent to which the choice of goods that we have in the stores are dependent on one or two very specific trade routes.”

Dover is by far the biggest UK destination for roll-on roll-off ferries, handling 2.6 million trucks last year according to the Department for Transport and Dover Harbour Board. The port also handles other trade including some 15,600 cargo vessels that arrived in the UK in 2016.

But Dover is about speed because of its proximity to France making it especially useful for time sensitive truck loads, often high value loads, which is why caters for mainly roll-on roll-off traffic. In value terms Dover handles 17% of all UK trade. In tonnage terms, Dover handles 26.2 million tonnes which is only 6% of total UK freight handled at ports. But these ports, such as Grimsby & Immingham, London, Southampton and Liverpool are geared up to handle handle containers.

The RHA’s Rod McKenzie described this as “an extraordinary gaff which doesn’t inspire hauliers faith in the Brexit process”. He referred to the RHA News comment that it is “astonishing that the Brexit secretary hadn’t understood importance of the crucial Dover-Calais route.”

Pauline Bastidon, head of European policy, Freight Transport Association said: “FTA is relieved to learn that the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU has finally recognised the importance of the Dover strait and frictionless trade for the UK economy.

“While looking at all potential contingencies is right, no other route provides the same frequency of crossing or is able to handle the same volumes as Dover-Calais, Dover-Dunkirk & Eurotunnel put together.

“The government now needs to make good on its pledge of frictionless trade, something the UK No Deal notices make plain would not be provided under a No Deal outcome. The logistics industry urgently needs the tools to keep Britain trading successfully after Brexit.”

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