Physical custom checks at British ports after Brexit would be a “catastrophe”, the shipping industry has warned.
Although Theresa May has said she is aiming for an EU customs arrangement that makes trade “as frictionless as possible”, leaving the EU single market and most of the customs union will likely add new barriers to goods passing between the EU and Britain.
UK Chamber of Shipping chief executive, Guy Platten, said: “The nightmare scenario is actually having physical customs borders. It would be absolutely a catastrophe for the ports and for our sector.
“You’ve suddenly got lorries stacked up, you’ve got sailings canceled…the whole supply chain is completely affected.”
The chamber, which represents more than 170 shipping firms, said governments across Europe needed to find a solution, as the issue would also hurt ports in Ireland, Holland, Belgium and France.
Platten said: “It is a massive problem that we need to get solved. It is in the political gift to have a frictionless or not have a frictionless border. It is a human construct.”
Speaking at a media briefing today, Platten warned that Dublin and Holyhead, in Wales, would likely be gridlocked if customs checks were introduced at their ports.
Europe’s busiest ferry port, Dover, sees around 8,000 EU lorries per day and around 500 from outside of the EU, explained Platten.
He said it would be an “absolute disaster” if the EU lorries were subject to the same checks as the non-EU ones.
He said: “It can take up to an hour for a truck now, multiply that by 8,000 and you can see what happens. It is going to be an absolute disaster for the ports and for our sector as well.”
Platten said neighbouring EU ports, such as Zeebrugge, Dublin and Calais, had to have a role to play in the solution, along with EU shipping companies who he hopes will lobby their governments not to strangle the movement of goods.
He said: “We don’t want anyone to win or lose in the Brexit negotiations because we trade on both sides.”