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Business leaders warn of potential delays at Felixstowe Port from a disorderly Brexit

PUBLISHED: 18:04 12 December 2018 | UPDATED: 22:22 12 December 2018

The Port of Felixstowe. Picture: MIKE PAGE / COURTESY OF THE PORT OF FELIXSTOWE

The Port of Felixstowe. Picture: MIKE PAGE / COURTESY OF THE PORT OF FELIXSTOWE

www.mike-page.co.uk copyright image

Business leaders and bosses have warned of the catastrophic consequences a hard or no deal Brexit could have on trade coming in and out of the Port of Felixstowe.

Port of Felixstowe berths 8 and 9Port of Felixstowe berths 8 and 9

The port, which is the biggest container port in the UK, has already been plagued by delays this year due to computer glitches.

The Port of Felixstowe, which is operated by Hutchison Ports, started experiencing operational delays in June, following the implementation of the new in-house terminal operating system (TOS).

Last month, Maersk Line announced that its AE7 service will transfer from Felixstowe to London Gateway to reduce the possibility of experiencing “unexpected disruption.” According to the maritime research consultancy Drewry, compared to other global ports, Felixstowe saw the largest decrease in mainline service connections when comparing the third quarter of 2018 to the second quarter.

Richard Harris, who is freight and logistics manager at Zygo, a freight forwarding service based at Felixstowe, said that he had seen first hand the delays at Felixstowe in the last six months, due to “the new Port Terminal computer system and a general lack of haulage availability.”

Summer time silhouette of a Maersk E class ship at The Port of FelixstoweSummer time silhouette of a Maersk E class ship at The Port of Felixstowe

“In my opinion, delays would worsen with a no deal Brexit. It wouldn’t affect the majority of the container work through Felixstowe, as those imports and exports from third countries already require declarations. But having to declare imports and exports from the EU would place greater pressure on the freight forwarding community to get things customs cleared.”

His sentiments are echoed by James Feltwell, who runs a Felixstowe-based currency exchange provider company, 1FX. “A lot of the companies I speak to say there are already now delays at the Port of Felixstowe, and this will get worse in March if we have no agreement with the EU. We need a free movement of goods and services. If there is a backlog, what kind of damaging effect would this have on companies?”

Being in the currency exchange market means that Mr Feltwell is particularly concerned about the effect of a disorderly Brexit on the pound.

“Two years ago, after the referendum happened, the market crashed by 10% and a lot of small business in Suffolk went out of business, because their profit margin was about 5% and so they were wiped out by that,” he explained. “A further dip of 5% if we have a hard Brexiteer in power could see the pound drop by 5% again, and it would be like groundhog day.”

Mr Harris is also concerned about lack of available drivers in his sector, which is a problem that could get worse with a hard or a no deal Brexit. “Drivers are returning to the continent mainly due current exchange rates seriously impact their earning potential, plus future uncertainty,” he explained. “Couple this with the fact very few individuals are considering being an HGV Driver as a career option - it is a problem that will be around for some time.”

Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, the county’s leading business voice organisation, has also expressed its concerns about the vote of no confidence that the Prime Minister is facing this evening,

“At one of the most pivotal moments for the UK economy in decades, it feels unacceptable that many Westminster politicians have chosen to focus internally, rather than on the needs of the country,” it said.

“As we said yesterday on the postponement of the vote, many businesses, business leaders and employees are fed-up and look on at activities in Westminster with dismay. Many of our members are worried, and the markets are showing serious strain as this political saga goes trundles on.

“What we need now, are politicians, regardless of party or views on Brexit, to understand that these scenarios that are unfolding and unravelling in front of our very eyes have real-world consequences of the highest order. Now is surely not the time for internal fighting or cross party point scoring.”

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