Responding to developments on Monday (3 February 2020) including the Prime Minister’s speech in Greenwich, the British Ports Association has called on the Government to clarify the mixed messages on trade and set out a positive and detailed vision for the UK’s trade and industrial policy.
Speaking about a future trading relationship with the EU, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “We have made our choice. We want a comprehensive free trade agreement, similar to Canada’s.”
Canada’s trading relationship with the EU is a free-trade agreement and includes some measure of alignment, although the Prime Minister seemed to suggest today that the UK is not seeking “alignment of any kind”.
Commenting on today’s speech, Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive of the British Ports Association, said:
The clock is ticking and the freight sector needs to understand exactly what border requirements there will be from January 2021. We have an excellent relationship with the various parts of Government that are planning for Brexit but now we need a clear and detailed statement on their positive vision for UK trade and industrial strategy – with Europe and the world – and how that will affect industries that rely on free-flowing trade through UK ports.
The goalposts have been moved several times over the last three and a half years and this uncertainty must now end.
It is now almost inevitable that the promise of continued “frictionless trade” will not be met. UK ports have been preparing for disruption for three and a half years and are as ready as they can be. However, we remain concerned at the readiness of the wider freight industry and the capacity of the multitude of Government agencies that operate at the border.
Ports and traders need to know what the Government is aiming for when it comes to equivalence, regulatory alignment and agreeing a level playing field – which are not the same thing. UK port gateways handle 95% of our international trade, and about half of this is with the EU, much of which is via roll-on roll-off ports.
UK ports have made all reasonable preparations in the face of considerable uncertainty, working very closely with Government, and most ports will not see major congestion even in the worst scenarios. Disruption at certain ports may mean increased costs for traders, manufacturers and ultimately potentially consumers. It is therefore critical that ports and the wider freight sector knows in detail what kind of future trading relationship with the EU they should be preparing for.
Sea News, February 4