Birkenhead to Belfast ferry operator Stena Line says both the UK and EU need to take a ‘pragmatic’ approach to customs after January 1 to keep goods moving. Tony McDonough reports
Irish Sea ferry operator Stena Line is calling on the EU to delay full customs controls for six months after the Brexit deadline on December 31.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has travelled to Brussels this week to hammer out a final deal on the country’s exit from the European. And, deal or no deal, the Birkenhead to Belfast ferry operator is seeing a “pragmatic” approach to customs from both sides.
Based in Sweden, Stena operates multiple routes across the Irish Sea, carrying both freight and passengers. It’s Stena Mersey and Stena Edda vessels sail between the Twelve Quays terminal on the Mersey and Belfast seven days a week, up to twice a day.
Following the first COVID-19 lockdown in the spring, Stena saw a surge in demand on its Irish Sea routes and the company is keen to maintain that momentum amid the uncertainty of the Brexit process.
Ian Hampton, executive director and Brexit spokesperson at Stena Line, said: “The systems and infrastructure required for customs checks in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will also not be finalised in time for January 1, 2021. With many companies in the supply chain still not ready we believe a further ‘implementation phase’ is required by both the UK and the EU.
“Stena Line understands that the UK Government will undertake a flexible and pragmatic approach to customs requirements after the end of the transition period. The Government has chosen to delay, by six months, the imposition of full controls on most imports to Great Britain. This is an approach that the company welcomes, as it will ensure there are no delays in UK ports.
“Stena Line would like to encourage the EU to take the same approach as the UK. It is in the interests of both the UK and EU to prioritise trade flows over customs and agri-food checks at the border.
“The goods being transported will change little in the short-term, and with the UK adopting all EU rules, there will be little risk after January 1, 2020. We would like to encourage both parties to continue to work together as they have done up until now, until systems are ready.”
Mr Hampton added it was vital that the UK’s role as a “land bridge”, connecting the UK to the rest of the EU via the Republic of Ireland, continues. He pointed out that freight logistics networks are geared around processing and distribution centres in the UK’s central corridor, that feed the supply of goods across Britain, Ireland and the Continent.
“These centres process goods for distribution for sectors such as retail and pharmaceuticals,” he said. “They have been set up as part of the land bridge network and can’t simply be by-passed by a direct route, as you then miss out a key part of the network.
“The land bridge remains the shortest route for Irish goods to enter the EU market, and vice versa, so it is particularly vital for Ireland that the EU plays their part to keep freight moving through Britain and on to the Continent.”