UK Revamps Brexit Contingency Plan for Extra Ferries

Busy cross-channel ro/ro ports like Dover could face delays in the event of a no-deal Brexit (file image)

Published Jul 4, 2019 8:52 PM by The Maritime Executive

Britain narrowly averted a "no-deal" exit from the EU on March 29, and it now expects to depart the European Union on October 31. In the event that the government cannot negotiate a free trade and customs agreement, British shippers can expect new inspections and paperwork at EU ports on the other side of the Channel. This is expected to strain ro/ro ferry capacity for shipping to and from the continent, and to offset any delays, the UK Department for Transport has once again issued a tender for vessel operators to provide contingency services. 

When Brexit was expected on March 29, the department signed binding contracts with three vessel operators for extra ferry capacity. The agreements ended up costing the government about $100 million in cancellation fees, litigation and settlements after the additional services proved unnecessary; one more lawsuit brought by P&O Ferries is still under way.

The opposition called for the resignation of transport minister Christ Grayling over the debacle, but he remains in his post. His department is taking a different approach to the ferry contract tender this time: no upfront payments. 

“The Department of Transport is putting in place a freight capacity framework agreement that will provide government departments with the ability to secure freight capacity for our critical supply chains as and when required," Cabinet minister David Liddington told Parliament this week. "This framework does not commit the government to purchasing or reserving any freight capacity, but it does provide a flexible list of operators and options for the provision of the capacity that can be drawn upon if needed.”

This time, it appears Brexit will occur on schedule. After failing to secure an exit deal that could satisfy both Parliament and Brussels, Prime Minister Theresa May agreed to step down from her post by the end of July. Prominent Tory politician Boris Johnson is widely expected to succeed her; Johnson has said that he is committed to departing the EU promptly, whether a deal on customs and trade can be found or not. 

"Don’t forget we are staring down the barrel now of political extinction, the Conservative Party, it is very difficult situation unless we get this thing over the line. What I want is a sensible Brexit that is supported by both sides of the channel but we have got to come out by October 31 and get it done, get it done by then at the latest," he told Reuters Wednesday.