Grave concerns have been expressed that the UK may not honour the Common Transit Convention which allows the passage of Irish trucks carrying valuable Irish exports through UK roads and ports to mainland Europe.
Verona Murphy, the Independent TD for Wexford, said in the Dáil last week that representatives of industry, hauliers and farmers have told her of their concerns that the UK could end the landbridge transit arrangement.
Ms Murphy, who served as president of the Irish Road Haulage Association before her election last February, told Taoiseach Micheál Martin that more than 150,000 trucks per year come and go from Dublin Port and Rosslare Europort and use the landbridge, transporting cargo with an estimated value of more than €18bn.
She asked the Taoiseach if this transit arrangement has been secured as part of the withdrawal agreement, and what preparations has the Government made to safeguard Irish exports, jobs and businesses, if the UK reneges on the Common Transit Convention and prevents Irish trucks from using the land bridge.
Ms Murphy said the effects of Brexit are still four months away, but the landbridge is already disrupted by developments such as the Port of Dover recently instituting migrant checks which delayed commercial traffic to a pace of only 1.8km in three hours.
The Taoiseach said maintaining the UK landbridge as an effective route to market has been a key priority in the Government’s Brexit planning.
He said many of the goods transported are agri-food products with a short shelf life, such as fresh fish, which makes the landbridge particularly valuable.
“It is the most viable route to market for many of those goods.”
He said the UK’s accession to the Common Transit Convention allows goods in transit to move through the UK without undergoing full import or export customs formalities on entry and exit.
“We have engaged in substantial talks at official and political levels across the European Union to ensure that EU goods in transit via the landbridge will not be subject to additional and unnecessary checks and controls.
“We have worked especially closely with our French, German, Dutch and Belgian counterparts.”
He said: “We get no sense from the UK government that there will be any attempt to undermine such trade. London is still adamant that it wants a comprehensive free trade agreement and does not want disruption. We have had no indication whatsoever of any negativity around the landbridge, or any attempt to undermine its importance to Ireland’s exports to mainland Europe.
“Obviously, it is something we will continually monitor.”
Ms Murphy said there should be a provision for capacity, which is currently on the UK side, to be diverted, in the event that the UK reneges on the common transit convention.
She warned that hold ups, as at Dover recently, already render the land bridge defunct.
She said €100m to €150m should be invested in Rosslare Europort to safeguard €18bn in trade, by installing direct ferry services to get goods to mainland Europe.
“It would mean that drivers would have certainty in their planning.
“As a result of the driving regulations, they must plan every minute of their day, from the time they leave the meat factory or fishing port.
“They have a 15-hour period within which to start and finish driving.
“The three-hour delay experienced yesterday meant that drivers spent nine or 10 extra hours in the UK. That is putting trade and jobs at risk.
“By failing to make provision for a daily service, we are putting ourselves in the hands of the UK. It will be able to pull the rug out from under us and tell us we will not be able to use the landbridge.”
She said a daily service across the Irish Sea from Rosslare and Dublin to Cherbourg or Le Havre would offer protection.
“Many businesses will undertake many hours of paperwork and spend thousands of euro, because no preparation is being made on their behalf by the Government to ensure the provision of a daily direct shipping service from Rosslare Europort to mainland Europe.
“Such preparation would allow those companies to circumvent the arduous and costly procedures involved in transiting on the land bridge. The failure to prepare is thrusting their fate into the hands of the UK authorities and we can all see where the UK authorities are at.”
It is guaranteed that there will be delays on the land bridge route, she warned.
Ms Murphy said the only thing the land bridge will provide post-Brexit is uncertainty. “We should spare a thought for the truck drivers, the very people whose jobs the Government is protecting. Post-Brexit, they will be front-line workers in the same way that doctors and nurses are for Covid, essential but scarce.”
She said that, currently, goods can only leave Ireland on a direct ferry sailing on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays. “We need that capacity to move to a service that is available on Mondays to Sundays, inclusive.”