Government has to show we are ‘open for business’ after October 31

Mersey Maritime chief executive Chris Shirling-Rooke says the maritime sector will be ready for Brexit and says the Government also needs to demonstrate it can meet the challenge

Mersey Maritime chief executive Chris Shirling-Rooke at the Maritime Knowledge Hub


Brexit, deal or no deal, is never far from the news channels. It’s on the lips of political commentators and in the day to day life of those involved in the maritime sector as the industry prepares for whatever the landscape will look like on and after October 31.

Last week, responding to the news that the Prime Minister has written to the President of the European Council outlining the Government’s commitment to securing a new deal with the EU, but making it clear that Brexit will happen regardless, I had a simple message: our industry will rise to the challenges and opportunities whatever the outcome.

But this ‘can do’ attitude needs to be reflected across all aspects of Government and its partner agencies if we are to be truly ready and to avoid any short term disruption there might be.

It can’t just be left to businesses to be ready, many of which have already committed the resources in time and money to the task of keeping the country moving and life as normal as possible.

Pinch point

Take the recent Bank Holiday as an example. Not a unique event, something that happens on at least eight occasions in England and Wales each year, an ideal opportunity you might say to test our resilience and what processes we have in place already at an anticipated pinch point for people movement during holiday season.

Now it might be an isolated example, but I was disappointed to see a comment from a traveller on the continent on the way back to the UK this week: “Long border queues long before Brexit – Bank Holiday Monday evening and only half the UK Border Control posts at Calais ferry port are manned so sitting waiting 30 minutes duly missing our ferry having arrived on time. All we need is the booths fully staffed.”

I couldn’t agree more. We know, assuming Parliament doesn’t change the state of play at this late stage, that Brexit is going to happen in just over two months. Why aren’t the teams we need fully in place and fit for purpose to ensure, working full time and to capacity, that cases like this simply don’t happen?

Welcome resource

It is reported that the Government is expected to open a £10m Brexit fund for English ports this week. Great news and a good start. But with a matter of weeks before Brexit is due to happen, this money needs to be released quickly to where it is most needed. And we have to be realistic too. It is welcome resource but at this late stage the reality of the impact it will have is relatively limited.

Brexit preparedness is a multi-piece jigsaw. I know our colleagues at our ports, for example, have been working hard for three years now to prepare.

We need to see 100% commitment from everyone to make sure known risks, like the apparent lack of customs agents and border control staff, don’t have a negative effect when we know we must maintain a positive outlook and show the country is open for business.

Having faith in Great Britain is one thing – which I do – but we need that to be a practical reality too.

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