Rubber Hits the Road

7 January 2019


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

No-Deal Brexit Creating UK Transport Wories


The possibility of the UK exiting the European Union without an agreement on their future relationship will have immense effects on all facets of British life. Nowhere is this more obvious than in travel to and from Europe. The current system of getting on a plane, train or ship and going will end. There will be document checks, cargo inspections and with those, delays. With less than three months to go before Brexit Day, the government is working on plans to address the potential mess. It is too little too late.

The most ridiculous of the endeavors is today's test runs of lorry traffic. Some 87 eighteen-wheelers are making the drive from disused Marston airport to the docks at Dover and back to see if that area can be used as a holding location as cargo-hauling vehicles make their way along the A256. The experiment uses less than 1% of the traffic seen at Dover every day. Precisely what can be learned from such a minimal sample may be interesting but almost certainly useless. Conservative MP for Dover Charlie Elphicke stated, "Sending lorries around Kent on a wild goose chase all the way to Manston in the extreme north-east corner and then sending them to the Port of Dover by a small A road is not the right answer."

Of course, the concentration of vehicles at Dover is the real problem. About 17% of the traffic between the UK and Europe passes through it, and historically, Dover is the main crossing point. Yet, it is not the only one. Using more of the available ports would lessen the traffic at Dover and make the whole process of getting across the Channel less trouble. That presumes, that the other ports can handle it.

Ramsgate is one such port, and no, it isn't even close to capable of handling more traffic. The BBC reported yesterday, "Seaborne Freight has been given a £13.8m contract to run a freight service between Ramsgate and Ostend in the event of a no-deal Brexit. However, Conservative councillor Beverly Martin says the harbour can not be ready by Brexit on 29 March. The government said facilities will be open 'as soon as practicable'. In a statement the Department for Transport said that 'works are underway'. Ramsgate has not had a regular ferry service since 2013."

A number of factors add to the troubling nature of the issue. First, Seaborne has never operated a ferry service and has no ships. The odds on the company being able to hit the ground running on March 29 are just this side of impossible.

Second, the Department of Transportation has not been in contact with the local council about the port and its possibly increased traffic. Ms. Martin added, "We didn't have any notification of any this at our council meeting on 6 December. Why not? This is my ward. I have not had a single email from anybody. If someone can show me how the due diligence was carried out, if someone can show me evidence on paper I shall feel a lot more comfortable."

Third, the timing of all of this is rather last minute. Naturally, the May government took the view that there would be a deal and that it would ensure minimal disruption to transportation across the Channel. Contingency planning and operations would have been taken as a signal that not all was well with negotiations. Nevertheless, the government had a duty to study the impact of a no-deal Brexit much sooner than now.

Almost a year ago, the BBC received a report it commissioned by Imperial College that found traffic could be backed up 29 miles, and that adding just two minutes per vehicle for proper inspection and processing would triple the length of existing queues at the Channel ports. Mr. Elphicke told the BBC back in March, "The obvious and logical thing at the beginning is to have a no-tariff deal because that way trade continues to flow between Britain and the EU and everyone wins." The government did nothing.

As things now stand, even if the government were to discover the exact impact that a no-deal Brexit would have down to the last microgram of cargo crossing the Channel, it doesn't have enough time to put in place a working system for cars, trucks, trains and ferries. It wasted almost two years' of preparation time.

© Copyright 2018 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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