A Bridge To Far
As Brexit negotiations rumble on, way beyond the eleventh hour, it seems clear that whatever deal is reached between the UK and EU, if any, it will not offer the ‘frictionless trade’ that Theresa May promised to UK businesses a little over two years ago. That has all manner of serious consequences. One that appears to have been largely overlooked in the UK is the impact on Welsh ports.
The Irish call it ‘the land bridge’. It’s the route from Ireland to continental Europe, via ferry ports in Wales and the UK roads network, to Dover and other ports serving France, Belgium and the Netherlands. 150,000 trucks use the route every year. That’s around 400 daily journeys in each direction. Thanks to Brexit those numbers are set to reduce dramatically in 2021.
Faced with the possibility of delays at each end of the ‘bridge’, Irish and continental hauliers are preparing to use alternatives. Ferry operators are laying on additional sailings on the direct routes from Ireland to the Continent. These include Stena Line and Irish Ferries from Dublin and Rosslare to Cherbourg, DFDS from Rosslare to Dunkirk and ClDN from Cork to Zeebrugge.
These routes may take a little longer but, as DFDS pointed out in their announcement of their new route, “drivers will arrive fully rested and immediately able to reach many major destinations within the legal driving limit”.
For the Welsh ports of Hollyhead, Fishgard and Pembroke this is bound to mean a significant reduction in traffic. There seems to be little recognition in Wales of this potential loss of business. Instead there are concerns about the lack of preparation for the infrastructure needed to carry out border checks at Hollyhead.
A couple of local politicians do appear to have their eyes on the ball. Cllr. Vaughan Williams (Plaid Cymru) told Wales Online’s Ryan O’Neill, “Companies across Europe are already looking at the viability of more EU to Republic of Ireland sailings to cut out any obstacles to their business. We as a town can ill afford to see the port being downgraded, a port which is the very fabric of our community and has been for centuries, from the days of the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company to more modern companies of today.”
The local Member of the Senedd, Plaid’s Rhun ap Iorworth, also expressed concerns. After pointing to the huge increase in port traffic resulting from the UK’s membership of the single market and the “hundreds of jobs directly linked to the port’s operations”, he added, “The fear is that trade that doesn’t absolutely have to go through Holyhead will go through other routes”.
Even these men seem to be unaware that the alternatives have long passed the stage of “looking at the validity”. As noted above, the businesses that depend on the trade are ahead of the game with vastly increased capacity on those routes ready to come online in January.
On the plus side, fewer HGVs on those of the UK’s motorways that link Wales to the channel ports will help reduce congestion. A reduction in the number of vehicles arriving in Kent to join the queue of trucks anticipated post Brexit will also make life a little easier for the citizens of Kent and the operators of UK — EU transport services.
And despite having provided an alternative route for Irish drivers heading for the continent, Stena Line are hoping to cash in on the new regime by reopening the duty free shop that existed in the days before Britain joined the Single Market. They aim to tempt Irish people to make the crossing in order to purchase alcohol at low prices.
As for people travelling from the UK to and from Ireland, there likely will be fewer sailings on the popular routes.
The UK’s departure from the EU will bring many changes to the pattern of travel between Britain and Europe in 2021, not all of which were fully appreciated at the time of the referendum.