Brexit: 'Christmas presents may not be delivered' if congestion at ports not cleared

  • Video report by ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi

Christmas presents may go undelivered in the UK if the government does not help clear congestion at a number of container ports, Labour's shadow business secretary has said.

A number of ports are becoming more and more clogged due to a spike in imports caused by no-deal Brexit fears and the coronavirus pandemic.

The Port of Felixstowe has been suffering congestion for weeks, but the issue has reportedly now spread to Southampton’s port.

The problem is being exacerbated by disruption to shipping movements around the world, partly caused by the pandemic.

Logistics bosses have written to the transport secretary to request help, warning that a "high" number of shipments remain at ports and "could persist for some months, running into the period of the end of the EU transition".

ITV News Political Reporter Shehab Khan explains the situation at container ports:

In their letter to Grant Shapps, the leaders of organisations such as the UK Major Ports Group, the UK Chamber of Shipping and Logistics UK, called on the the government not to be “complacent”, and called for it to provide “sensible flexibilities and easements” around the movement of containers at ports and road haulage.

They added: "Challenges remain. The current situation has arisen in part from imbalances that accumulated over months. Reversing this accumulation is not an overnight task.”

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said companies have been “sounding the alarm for weeks about the problems at ports”.

He said the ongoing Brexit negotiations were “throwing massive uncertainty” into firms’ decision making.

“The government must take responsibility for having left the country in this position, not keep putting the burden of blame on businesses,” he said.

“Car production halting, Christmas presents possibly going undelivered, and food supplies being thrown out are terrible for businesses across our country.”

The letter from transport bosses added: "The run-up to Christmas is traditionally a busy period. Businesses are bringing in more stock ahead of the end of the UK’s transition period out of the EU. The requirements of large volumes of PPE have played a role. “And although the logistics sectors have remained highly resilient and operational throughout the pandemic, there is inevitably an influence.”

The Department for Transport said partners across the government are working closely with the freight industry to resolve challenges in the global container system.

UK Major Ports Group chief executive Tim Morris said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented volatility in global supply chains. The impact is being felt across the world, including here in the UK.

“The situation at the UK’s ports is improving following commitment of extra resources, working closely with customers and ports across the UK taking on more traffic.

“However, we are not complacent. Improvements at UK ports will take time to work through supply chains, they remain very busy and the underlying problem is global.”

Car manufacturer Honda said it has paused production at its Swindon factory due to “transport-related parts delays”.

It hopes to re-start work “as soon as possible”.

The plant will permanently close in July next year with the loss of 3,500 jobs.

Unite national officer Steve Bush said the vehicle manufacturing industry relies on 1,100 lorries delivering parts every day.

He commented: “It cannot function if there is chaos at our ports, as the Honda shutdown illustrates.”