Portsmouth port rushes to meet 'challenging' deadlines for no-deal Brexit preparations

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THE city’s port is rushing to meet tough deadlines ahead of Britain’s transition period out of the European Union coming to an end.

Portsmouth International Port director Mike Sellers said the facility is facing ‘challenging’ deadlines in order to ensure essential goods can continue to move through its site.

The transition period ends this year but the government has caused a furore by trying to back out of elements of prime minister Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement.

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This means the prospect of no-deal Brexit has raised its head again.

Portsmouth International Port faces 'challenging' timescales in order to be ready for Brexit. Picture: Habibur RahmanPortsmouth International Port faces 'challenging' timescales in order to be ready for Brexit. Picture: Habibur Rahman
Portsmouth International Port faces 'challenging' timescales in order to be ready for Brexit. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Yesterday Michael Gove, in a letter about the government's reasonable worst-case scenario, warned of queues of up to 7,000 lorries in Kent.

He said the ‘biggest potential cause of disruption are traders not being ready for controls implemented by EU member states’ on January 1.

Emergency planners in Hampshire have been fearful delays at Portsmouth’s port could cause a backlog of lorries on the M275 and M27.

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In Mr Gove's letter he said ‘there is unlikely to be significant, sustained disruption’ at ports such as Portsmouth but measures would be needed.

The Brexit lorry park in Tipner Lane, Portsmouth. Picture: Habibur RahmanThe Brexit lorry park in Tipner Lane, Portsmouth. Picture: Habibur Rahman
The Brexit lorry park in Tipner Lane, Portsmouth. Picture: Habibur Rahman
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Mr Sellers, the port director, said: ‘As a port that will provide resilience to the UK for critical freight after the end of the transition period, we have been actively engaged with cross government departments in preparation for the new border operating model.

‘The timescales for the government’s plans are challenging, but we’ll continue to work with the Local Resilience Forum to ensure there are adequate traffic management measures in place to keep these essential goods moving.’

Preparations for no-deal Brexit

Last year when no-deal was a possibility several times, a series of lorry checkpoints were set up to stop traffic chaos. This included a site at Tipner West, currently home to the Covid-19 testing centre. This will be returned for use by the Hampshire Local Resilience Forum next month.

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It comes as a nationwide union of HGV drivers has warned that the government is increasingly risking ‘chaos and confusion’ with its still-incomplete customs systems.

These concerns were echoed by city-based 2mv Logistics, an international freight-forwarder company, which warned the government faces a ‘messy’ situation with the potential of lorries queuing across the city.

Hauliers worry about ‘a lot of unknowns’

Graham Truckel, sales manager, said: ‘There are still a lot of unknowns. Customers are asking us what they should be doing. There's a general sense of uncertainty around documentation. ‘

The government had made positive steps with HMRC writing to all businesses outlining some of the documentation importers and exporters need – but more information is needed, Graham said.

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He added: ‘From our point of view as a forward freight company it might create opportunities. Whilst we can help, it’s not something that can be solved magically overnight – there’s going to be delays.

‘Overall it’s going to be messy.’

Is an extra lorry park needed for Portsmouth?

Unite the Union said Portsmouth was listed as needing a lorry park in what national officer Adrian Jones said were the government’s ‘eleventh-hour preparations' that would lead to ‘chaos and confusion’.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council which owns the port, said a two-acre site was still needed for the port under no-deal concerns.

The government initially told the council it needed a 20-acre site as Westminster had ‘didn’t remember’ the Tipner West would be used by the resilience forum, he added.

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He hopes the council’s cargo handling firm Portico will see more work in customs clearances, providing the council a ‘silver lining’ of more income.

Ferry firm confident in keeping ‘freight moving’

Meanwhile, Brittany Ferries said it had ‘plenty of practice’ in avoiding disruption.

Nigel Wonnacott, from the company, said: ‘Brexit is the elephant in the room, but we must continue to work together to mitigate any negative impacts come January 2021.

‘The good news is that we have had plenty of practice and the Local Resilience Forum has developed plans to prevent, as far as possible, delays around the International Port.

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‘We’ll continue to work closely with all partners to keep freight moving and to ensure that Portsmouth remains Brittany Ferries hub for cross channel freight and passenger traffic.’

Government is looking to issue contracts for freight. During the last no-deal Brexit fears Brittany Ferries was handed a similar contract.

Hauliers in Kent would be expected to use a ‘Smart Freight IT’ system proving they are ready to go ahead of arriving at the border. This would be advisory at other ports.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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