The UK Government has agreed contracts worth a total of £77.6m with four ferry firms to provide freight capacity following the end of the Brexit transition period.
The move is designed to ensure that essential supplies including medicines will continue to reach the UK next year after the transition period ends on 31 December 2020.
In the event of no trade deal being agreed between the UK and EU before the end of the year, it is expected that there may be significant disruption and delays at ports, in particular, due to new regulatory checks. This could potentially disrupt key supply chains and lead to shortages of some products.
The contracts signed by the government are expected to see extra sailings to some of England’s less-used ports, in a bid to prevent gridlock at Dover and other key ports. The contracts with Brittany Ferries, DFDS, P&O and Stena are expected to serve the ports in Felixstowe, Harwich, Hull, Newhaven, Poole, Portsmouth, Teesport and Tilbury.
According to the Government, the ferry operators will provide capacity equivalent to over 3,000 HGVs each week. The contracts will be in place for up to six months at the start of 2021.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Securing these contracts ensures that irrespective of the outcome of the negotiations, lifesaving medical supplies and other critical goods can continue to enter the UK from the moment we leave the EU.”
Talks between the UK and EU to secure a post-Brexit trade deal have been ongoing, though time is running out, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously indicating that both sides should ‘move on’ if a deal is not agreed by mid-October.
In 2018, the UK Government awarded contracts worth a total of £87m to ferry firms, though these were not needed due to the UK’s departure from the EU being delayed. Among those contracts was a contract with ‘Seaborne Freight’ worth £13.8m. It emerged that the company had never run a ferry service, leading to then Transport Secretary Chris Grayling facing calls to resign.