Pressure is building on the Government to advance plans for alternative shipping routes bypassing Britain to avoid severe delays at English Channel ports stemming from a possible no-deal Brexit.
Potential risks to the key “landbridge” transit route for Irish traders through the UK to Europe have escalated in light of the UK government’s no-deal plans which show severe disruptions at British ports.
Operation Yellowhammer, the secret UK planning dossier leaked over the weekend, warns of significant interruptions at UK ports that could last up to three months after Brexit.
The report says up to 85 per cent of lorries travelling across the Channel may not be ready for French customs, creating delays of two days and a severe bottleneck for Irish hauliers bound for Europe.
About 150,000 haulage units use the landbridge every year, leading to concerns among Irish businesses that there is insufficient capacity on direct shipping routes to Europe to offer an alternative for this traffic.
Industry groups have warned delays at English ports could affect the transport of fresh food and time-sensitive produce, and have criticised the Government for not developing detailed alternative plans.
“What are the Government’s contingency plans for this? All I have heard from the Government is there is increased capacity for Dublin to Cherbourg but that is not a viable alternative to the scale and type of goods using the landbridge,” said Aidan Flynn, general manager of Freight Transport Association Ireland.
“This is where the Government are letting themselves down. There hasn’t been enough joined-up thinking amongst the various stakeholders around the table. Planning has been ad hoc and focused on customs and tariffs but it is the movement and access to market that are the most important things.
Irish Ferries sails from Dublin to Cherbourg three times a week, while Stena Line also sails three times a week from Rosslare to Cherbourg but on different days. This could lead to a potential demand for daily sailings from each port should a no-deal Brexit at the next deadline of October 31st disrupt landbridge traffic.
The Government has said there is sufficient capacity on existing direct ferry routes to France to meet current market demand. Should that change, commercial operators will respond where necessary.
Hauliers warn of a potential shortage of capacity on the longer sea routes to the European ports of Zeebrugge and Rotterdam that would be required to put traders closer to their markets.
Several sources conceded that the direct routes to Europe, last between 20 and 40 hours, would be too long for Irish importers and exporters transporting fresh food and time-sensitive produce.
The ferry companies servicing the Irish ports are said to be looking at alternative arrangements in the event of English ports being severely affected by congestion in the event of a no-deal Brexit scenario. “Irish Ferries will respond to the market demands whatever they are at whatever stage,” said the ferry company’s parent, Irish Continental Group, in response to queries.
European shipping companies could add vessels and routes on direct services between Ireland and Europe, depending on the level of demand and disruption to cross-channel transit from a crash-out Brexit.
Importers and exporters were urged to look at using alternative ports on the English east coast to avoid Dover, the busiest UK port on the channel, to avoid the inevitable no-deal Brexit delays.
“Businesses will have to actively export using other east-coast ports,” said Neil McDonnell, chief executive of Isme, the representative body for the country’s small and mid-sized businesses.
“Operation Yellowhammer has shown that they could be facing three months of torture.”