06 JUN 2018

Channel port operators say they can 'absolutely' deliver on Brexit

Cross-Channel port operators say they can "absolutely" deliver preparations for Brexit at the border. Representatives from Eurotunnel, the Port of Calais and the Port of Zeebrugge appeared at a Treasury Select Committee hearing in Parliament this morning (Tuesday, June 5th). They revealed that authorities in Belgium and France have told them to prepare for every eventuality – including Britain leaving the European Union with 'no deal'.

The operators expressed their frustration at not yet knowing how the UK-EU will work post-Brext, despite it being nearly two years since the referendum. But I asked: "With clear specification for Brexit and what's expected of you, would you say you can deliver?" John Keefe, director of public affair at Eurotunnel, said: "Absolutely."

Joachim Coens, CEO of the Port of Zeebrugge, added: "The British and the EU and Belgian customs [authorities] should prepare practicalities – and they've waited too long to do that. Everybody knows what the decision is. Let's start on technical things – prepare on practical things – and that should be started immediately." Mr Coens said that the French and Belgian government advice to ports on Brexit is to "prepare for the worst".

Benoit Rochet, deputy CEO of the Port of Calais, was asked by another MP if Brexit preparations would be ready by January 2021, the end of the proposed 'transition period'. He said: "We will have no choice. We are not going to close the port. We will do what we will have to do."

Later in the hearing, I questioned Jon Thompson, chief executive of HM Revenue and Customs. I cast doubt on Mr Thompson's previous claims that businesses would face Brexit customs costs of £20 billion if the Government chose the so-called 'maximum facilitation' option. Charlie pointed out that many businesses and firms think the figure would be far lower. Mr Thompson said it was a question of 'methodology'.

In any case, it's really encouraging to hear cross-Channel port operators say they can absolutely deliver Brexit border preparations. They had a positive attitude towards Europe's trading relationship with the UK post-Brexit. Yet they want more clarity from Government. It's high-time they had it.

A huge £240 billion of trade passes through the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel every year. It's in everyone's interests to keep that trade flowing. That's why it must be a national priority to invest now at the Dover frontline. We need resilient roads and modern border systems ready for Brexit.


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Charlie Elphicke

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