There are fears shipping companies may abandon the Port of Liverpool post-Brexit after it was revealed that over 11 times more checks on goods may be needed once the UK leaves the EU – but there aren’t enough staff to carry them out.
At a meeting of the Mersey Port Health Authority this week, councillors were reportedly told that there would be a “huge problem” ramping up the current 1,900 statutory cargo inspections a year to an estimated 21,000 that could be required after Brexit.
Cllr Richard Kemp, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council, said members were also told there was “no clarity” about regulations on imports from Northern Ireland and Ireland.
There are just 10 weeks until the UK leaves the EU on January 1 – and future checks on goods coming into the UK from the EU will depend on whether a free trade deal is agreed.
Cllr Kemp said that if checks are needed, it could mean shipping firms turning away from Liverpool due to the potential problems with unloading cargo here.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Kemp said: “This farcical situation shows that after being promised an ‘oven ready deal and frictionless borders’ last year, Brexit will cause major problems to trade for hauliers and shippers.
“Thousands of extra staff will be needed in both public and private sectors. All this will slow down trade which adds to expense even before the extra cost of staff is considered.”
Cllr Kemp also said that the port authority is currently losing staff to Public Health England and other port authorities, who will have to undertake inspections for the first time, adding: “Even if they could get the staff there is no money to pay for the staff required.
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“This could mean that some ships will be unable to unload their cargoes here which might cause a permanent change in which port they choose to use. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are aware of the problems but have refused to commit the extra cash needed.”
The 21,000 checks needed in the event of a no-deal Brexit would cover the entire Port of Liverpool – the 7.5 mile dock system running from Seaforth to Brunswick, also covering Birkenhead and Wallasey on the west side of the Mersey.
Cllr Kemp said the authority will now write to the council and the Metro Mayor to ask for help – “to resolve these issues which should have been resolved well before the 11th hour and 59th minute of this long and inept saga”.
Negotiations are continuing between the UK and the EU over a free trade deal. But on Friday Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country must “get ready” for a no-deal after what he called a “fundamental” change of direction from the EU.
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That could mean checks on goods coming into the country, and there have previously been warnings over UK borders becoming jammed.
In Kent, it was reported that failure to strike a deal could mean 7,000 lorries forced to queue to cross the Channel.
It was initially hoped a deal would be done by the end of the month – but that deadline is looking more difficult given the current deadlock.
Both the Department for International Trade and DEFRA were contacted for a comment.