‘We’re not there yet’ says Stena Line as Welsh ports continue to deal with Brexit aftermath

  • Video report by ITV Cymru Wales journalist Elen Davies 

Stena Line, the owners of two Welsh Ports, have said that more work needs to be done to iron out “major issues” following Brexit. 

Last January, the UK left the EU's Single Market and Customs Union, but Welsh ports such as Holyhead and Fishguard are said to have had a “difficult year”. 

Since leaving the European Union, latest figures show freight figures at Holyhead Port is down “about a third”, Stena Line told Y Byd yn ei Le, S4C’s political programme.

Stena Line say the pandemic has also had an effect on Welsh Ports

Speaking on behalf of the world's leading ferry operators, Simon Palmer, Communications Officer, said there’s more than one thing to blame for the negative effect on Welsh ports over the last year.

He said: “A combination of both Brexit and the pandemic have affected freight flows but it’s clear Brexit isn’t a one year or an overnight issue, it’s going to be something that will have to be ironed out over the space of a couple of years as we see the ongoing negotiations.”

The latest data shows freight between Dublin and Holyhead last year decreased nearly 20% compared with 2020. The freight between Rosslare and Pembroke Dock and Fishguard also decreased by 30% in the same period. 

Explaining the decrease in freight numbers, Mr Palmer said the popularity of direct routes may be the possible reasoning for the figures.

“Previously from Rosslare to Cherbourg, we had one vessel serving the route and it would only be about two thirds full annually,” he said.  

“Very quickly we knew that the demand had increased considerably on that route, so we had to put two vessels on that route and unfortunately, some of that traffic is to the detriment of the ports in Wales.”

He added: “At the moment, because you have the unfettered access from Northern Ireland, you're still seeing levels of freight that would’ve come through Wales going via Belfast or direct to France.”

Some businesses on the island say Brexit has been a success to their businesses.

Dafydd Thomas runs a water bottle company in Pentraeth, Anglesey. He says he’s seen no negative impact on the business whatsoever since leaving the EU. 

"As a businessman myself, I still import to Europe now and I export to Europe and I haven’t seen any negative effects from leaving the European Union. In fact, since leaving the European Union, we’ve had more opportunities for the island."

Mr Thomas also claims he’s gained more opportunities to export products across the world post-Brexit than he did before leaving the EU. 

“I’ve managed to export more to Australia and to America… I feel the rest of the world is looking in on Britain now and I hope we can take the opportunities that fall to us.” 

Other locals from Anglesey claim the extra paperwork is causing longer waits at Welsh ports.

But for Alun Roberts, who runs an organisation that supports businesses in Anglesey, he says he’s heard first hand the negative effects of Brexit on local businesses. 

He said: “The supply chain is the main issue that’s affected lots of businesses in terms of importing goods. It’s taking a lot longer with the paperwork in ports and airports.”

When asked whether we’d seen the full effect of Brexit one year into the journey, Mr Roberts said we needed “a few more years yet to assess the full impact.”

Stena Line says major issues are still being addressed one year on.

Although freight flows have gradually improved over the year, Stena Line says there are still issues that need to be addressed in order for the freight sector to return to normal distribution levels post-Brexit. 

Simon Palmer said the transition period hadn’t been smooth. 

“There’s been major issues,” he said. 

“We’ve been surveying our freight customers and they’ve talked of trauma last year. It was a very difficult time for them. We’re not there yet, it’s going to take a while for all the issues to be ironed out, some major issues are still being addressed, but we are quite positive. We own the port, we’re 100% behind it and as you can see today, it’s still very busy.” 

  • Y Byd yn ei Le airs on Wednesday January 12 at 8.25pm on S4C, with English subtitles available.