'Wales is far from ready': MPs warn UK Government of disruption at Welsh ports

Holyhead is the second busiest roll-on roll-off port in the UK.

There's a “significant and unacceptable risk” that Welsh ports could be left without the means to carry out new customs checks when the Brexit transition period ends in less than three weeks, according to Welsh MPs.

The cross-party Welsh Affairs Committee says the UK Government should provide clarity immediately and publish contingency plans to enable ports and businesses to plan properly.

It says it's particularly concerned about Holyhead, which is the second busiest roll-on roll-off port in the UK, and Fishguard/ Pembroke Dock.

The committee report warns that even if a deal is reached, those ports may not be ready for the “thousands of new checks a day” created under new trading rules with the EU.

MP Stephen Crabb chairs the Welsh Affairs Select committee Credit: PA Images

Stephen Crabb, the MP who chairs the committee, told ITV Wales that he has serious concerns.

"The truth is that Wales is far from ready for all of the changes that are going to happen at the end of his Brexit transition phase at the end of December, regardless of whether a deal is struck or not," he said.

"We're particularly concerned about the impact that will have on the ports that link Wales and the United Kingdom with the Republic of Ireland and therefore the EU. Most notably Holyhead, which is actually the UK's second largest ferry port.

"We're concerned that we will see potentially congestion and disruption to the free flow of goods and agricultural produce and that will have big knock on impacts for Wales and Welsh business."

Welsh ports at Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke Dock will be at the forefront of Brexit when Britain and the EU begin trading as separate entities from January 1st.

There have been repeated warnings that the infrastructure isn't in place, particularly a location for carrying out new customs checks. The UK Government is insisting that steps it's taking will avoid significant disruption.

MPs on the committee echo those concerns, highlighting the fact that decisions have yet to be taken on where inland checks will be carried out at all three ports in Wales.

The UK Government is responsible for selecting a site for Holyhead but for the Pembrokeshire ports the Welsh Government is in charge. This report makes recommendations to the UK Government but the MPs say their concerns about readiness include over actions taken by the Welsh Government.

They do welcome the six month phase in period to allow new processes to be introduced up until July 2021 but they urge the UK Government to publish contingency plans in case a site still hasn’t been identified by then.

They also say the Welsh and UK Governments need to redouble their efforts to work together to avoid the worst case scenario.

The committee also welcomes the UK Government’s efforts in reaching trade agreement with Japan in October and in particular that the Welsh Government was consulted. That approach, it says, should be used in future trade negotiations. 

After Brexit talks on Thursday, the UK Prime Minister has urged businesses and the public to prepare for a no pot-Brexit deal scenario.

Responding to the report, a UK Government spokesperson said:

"We have been clear that the end of the transition period will bring both opportunities and challenges – that is why we have invested around £1 billion to make sure our borders and businesses are ready.

“In Wales we have worked with Welsh Government and others to secure a site on Anglesey for inland clearance checks for Holyhead Port. Responsibility for inland facilities serving the ports of Pembroke Dock and Fishguard is devolved and is a matter for the Welsh Government.

 “The UK Government is also running a major public information campaign on what businesses and citizens need to do to prepare for the end of the Transition Period. The Welsh Secretary has spoken directly to hundreds of businesses, including at an online event yesterday (Thursday) alongside the Senedd’s Economy Minister, which was attended by more than 250 business representatives.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said:

“We’ve worked hard to make sure we are prepared as we can be for the end of the transition period, including ensuring our ports continue to function as smoothly as possible after we leave.

“At the start of the year we called on the UK Government to involve us in the necessary planning needed as the UK prepares to leave the transition period at the end of this year. Welsh Ministers were only approached late in the year to get involved in joint planning, including requirements at Welsh ports, so precious time has been lost.

“We are working closely with the relevant local authorities and ports to minimise disruption to our ports and that business, partners and users of the ports are kept informed as these discussions progress.”