PORTSMOUTH’S council leader has written to the government expressing his concerns over the pressure that Brexit could place on staffing at the city’s port – even increasing criminal activity.
In a letter to Michael Gove, the minister charged with planning for a no-deal Brexit, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson expressed his grave concerns over the financial and staffing implications for the city’s international port.
Under current EU regulations, the majority of goods passing through the port are not subject to inspection. However, Cllr Vernon-Jackson is concerned that the advent of a no-deal Brexit and an end to the free movement of goods would potentially result in the city’s trading standards team having to carry out inspections rather than their current duties of preventing potential criminal activity.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson stated: ‘If the free movement of goods ends when the UK leaves the single market and the customs union without an alternative in place, imports entering the UK through Portsmouth will become subject to inspection by UK agencies including the local authority agencies of trading standards and Port Health. Portsmouth City Council’s trading standards team currently concentrates its limited resources upon criminality - however the service is now likely to be deemed in part responsible for goods imported into the UK.’
The council is concerned about the potential burden placed on the Port Health team faced with additional checks for food products entering the country. Under such circumstances Cllr Vernon-Jackson said staff faced being ‘immediately overwhelmed’ and that ‘significant investment would be required’.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson added: ‘If border checks on food and non-food products are required then a significant investment in additional staff is required. Should our concerns materialise, we calculate that an ongoing minimum investment of £300,000 per annum is necessary to maintain a single officer presence at the port. Whilst financial investment in additional staff will help in the long term, the availability and governance of qualified and experienced workforce to fulfil these roles also remains unclear.’
The concerns expressed by the council follow on from a report to MPs about the potential difficulties for border controls in dealing with the post-Brexit import and export of goods. Speaking to MPs, Dr Anna Jerzewska, an independent adviser at the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation's International Trade Centre, said that ‘significant investment’ in more customs staff was needed.
Dr Jerzewska said: ‘We don't have enough staff even at the moment - we don't have enough trained customs people in the UK. We have shortages of people who understand customs even before Brexit.’