The prospect of massive disruption to Ireland’s exports has ratcheted up, following the crushing rejection of the EU-UK withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons and the fig leaf replacement offer by Prime Minister Theresa May to a bewildered European Commission.
Exporters both in the UK and Ireland are frustrated at the lack of adequate planning for the UK’s exit from the EU.
The majority of UK ports have confirmed they are not prepared for a hard Brexit: Only 16% of UK ports and harbour authorities have made “significant or practical” plans for Brexit, according a recent survey.
This is the first real evidence of what will happen outside of the main europort of Dover, which had a less than encouraging trial run of the UK government’s emergency planning late last year.
Only 25% of UK port chiefs think they are in a position to cope well with Brexit.
A third say they could cope but will need further investment, while over 40% say they either don’t know or doubt their ability to handle additional demands.
Irish exporters and importers have also called for urgent solutions for customs and border arrangements.
They point to the need for a bilateral agreement to cover vehicle permits to ensure free access for trucks transiting across the UK — the so-called landbridge — that carries 60% of exports to the continent.
They also have been pressing Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe to follow the lead of other EU countries and exempt paying Vat at a rate of 23% due on all imports from the UK once it leaves the EU.
Many Irish firms are looking at using a system of bonded warehouses to enable imported goods leave Irish ports under a customs-free transit arrangement.
The system is workable and would relieve some port congestion but does require a bank bond, a Revenue requirement which Minister Donohoe could waive.
Irish ports have been preparing well for the worst case Brexit scenario.
Dublin Port is rapidly completing a €30m investment, including primary and secondary inspection posts for Revenue and Department of Agriculture officials.
The officials will have to carry out a fivefold increase in checks on goods requiring customs clearance, as well as carrying out additional checks on food and animals arriving from the UK.
The Port of Cork has announced a new direct service to Spain, which it believes will relieve the congested UK landbridge.
The MV Connemara, which Brittany Ferries has chartered for an initial two-year period, will have the capacity for around 100 trailers and 80 to 100 cars, catering for commercial haulage as well as tourists on a 26-hour crossing down to Santander.
On the direct French connection, Irish Ferries has given a mid-March date for the launch of the direct freight route to continental Europe.
The Port of Rosslare has customs buildings close to the ships birthing quay and extensive investment is needed to meet the demands of Brexit.
John Whelan is managing partner at international trade consultancy The Linkage-Partnership