Northern ports 'could step in to secure UK trade if Brexit leads to disruption on south coast'

Northern ports are 'ready to take up the challenge' of ensuring goods can still flow in and out of the UK if Brexit results in severe delays for trade routes via the south coast, a senior industry official said today.

Talks are already underway between Associated British Ports, which operates ports in Hull, Goole, Grimsby and Immingham, and officials in other northern European nations in the event of disruption at Dover after the UK leaves the European Union.

And David Leighton, group head of corporate affairs at ABP, told a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham that the firm had “some fantastic infrastructure on the East coast that is ready to take up the challenge”.

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How Port of Hull can be harbour from Brexit storm - and 'supercharge' northern economyOfficials on the south coast have warned of serious traffic congestion around Dover, the country’s busiest port for goods vehicles, unless the Government achieves a Brexit deal involving frictionless trade.

Mr Leighton said: “I think from our perspective, we are planning for Brexit, and we are in the business of delivering solutions. So whatever happens we will find the solution.

“Ports on the East coast, ports on the Humber and our colleagues at Teesside, really are part of the solution. If people are worried about the risk of disruption at ports like Dover, there is some fantastic infrastructure on the East coast that is ready to take up the challenge.

“We have the space for customs checks if we need them and we have colleagues in the near continent, Rotterdam, Zeebrugge and so forth, that are working intensely and proactively with us to make sure we can keep trade flowing and growing.”

He added: “We have to acknowledge that we are only 50 per cent of the solution, there is the other 50 per cent, which is what people the other side of the water will do.

“I can’t speak for Emmanuel Macron so I can’t tell you what he’s thinking, but I can tell you that our dear friends in the Netherlands and Flanders and Scandinavia, we have agreement with all those folks who are committed to taking what the Department for Transport calls a pragmatic and risk-based approach, prioritising flow.”

Mr Leighton added that ABP has eight ports in the North, and the Humber estuary already handled £75bn of trade every year, as well as creating 33,000 jobs.

Speaking at the same event, today Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said there was too much concentration of trade at Dover and he wanted a more diverse network of routes in and out of the UK.

He said: “I don’t see any scenario where Dover and the tunnel don’t remain fundamental to our trade, but as someone who believes both in resilience and competition, I am also keen to see other ports develop different trade routes.”

And at an earlier event he said the Government was looking at alternative routes to the Dover-Calais link to move goods. He said: “You can’t replicate Dover-Calais, that’s for certain, but you can deliver conduits for key supply chain elements.”