Written evidence submitted by the Port of Dover (RDF0003)

 

The Port of Dover is pleased to submit evidence to the Transport Committee’s Road Freight Inquiry in time for the deadline of Friday 19th November 2021.

 

About the Port of Dover

 

The Port of Dover handles up to £122 billion of trade or 17% of the UK’s trade in goods.  Up to 10,000 lorries pass through Dover each day, with half of them heading beyond London to support economic activity in the Midlands and North.

 

This is made possible due to Dover’s geographic location as the closest UK port to mainland Europe and the capacity, service frequency, short crossing time and operational efficiency this delivers in connecting the UK with its largest and nearest trading partnerSpecifically, the Port of Dover achieves 120 ferry movements in a day, with ferries berthing, discharging, reloading, and sailing again within 45 minutes.

 

Reason for submitting evidence

 

Noting the context of the inquiry being the impact of the pandemic and new EU legislation, the Port of Dover has been at the forefront of road freight supply chain discourse.

 

Dover attracted most attention during Brexit because any risk to its continued smooth operation would be catastrophic for business and UK supply chains.  The traffic simply had to keep flowing and it did.  However, it was also evident what impact disruption to the flow of freight could have when the French closed the border just before Christmas in 2020 due to Covid concerns.

 

Repeatedly, the Port of Dover has demonstrated exceptional resilience, showing why the ‘Short Straits’ system can sustain the UK into the future.  The market knows this and continues to be committed to this vital route.  Indeed, when the French border re-opened, Dover’s geographic position enabled it to deliver an unrivalled level of scale and speed of response on the shortest crossing to Europe.

 

The challenge of the French border closure, though, was particularly acute as Dover operates under juxtaposed controls as a result of the Treaty of Le Touquet, whereby UK border entry checks are carried out in France and French border entry checks are carried out in DoverTherefore, any delays at the French border are felt intensely in Dover and more widely across Kent in particular, as well as within supply chains across the UK.

 

This is the context for the Port’s submission of evidence to the inquiry.

 

Evidence

 

The Port has been seeking Government support as it faces serious post Brexit challenges. 

 

The Port needs new border infrastructure, identified back in 2018, as a result of Britain leaving the EU and consequent new vehicle processing rules.   This new infrastructure will double the capacity of border authority booths and mitigate the increased transaction times caused by lengthier and more intrusive checks that have taken place since Brexit.  Known as the Outbound Controls Project, it will also deliver a clearer, logical, and more efficient flow through to the ferry check-in and boarding process.

 

On top of already lengthier border checks, the EU’s Entry Exit System (EES) is due to be introduced in May 2022, which means that all British, and other non-EU, citizens will have to register a digital identification profile at border control points and undergo a biometric check when entering the Schengen Area under the supervision of a French Police Aux Frontieres official. 

 

This system, as currently designed, would require these citizens to exit their vehicles to physically submit their profiles at the French border controls, because the system is set up principally for foot passengers at airports.  These controls are located in the Port of Dover due to the juxtaposed controls that exist. 

 

Juxtaposed controls are the product of the Treaty of Le Touquet, the fundamental purpose of which is to prevent illegal immigrants from travelling to the UK.  It has been a crucial and successful feature of cross-Channel border management for the past two decades.  UK border entry checks are carried out in France and French border entry checks are carried out in Dover.

 

The system is not designed for the smooth and uninterrupted flow of a roll-on roll-off ferry port, where it would be unsafe for customers to leave their vehicles in live traffic lanes to carry out the process.  This raises serious and practical challenges that need addressing now and also potentially affects what is required via the Outbound Controls Project, but the specification for how it will be administered at a port such as Dover is, as yet, unknown.

 

Pre-Covid, the Port was processing 1,000 lorries per hour and over one passenger per second (inbound and outbound combined).  This volume is only possible because customers do not leave their vehicle.  Tourist vehicles were also being processed at 45-60 seconds per vehicle.  When this sector fully returns post-Covid, there will be the additional challenge of handling large tourist volumes in amongst the freight traffic with the same issues regarding EES, including the issue of families potentially exiting their vehicles in amongst live freight traffic lanes.

 

Through government support for the full and successful completion of the Outbound Controls Project and by satisfactorily addressing EES, the integrity of the Treaty of Le Touquet can be maintained and the impacts of new lengthier checks and keeping traffic flowing can be mitigated.

 

Without this, however, the future viability of the Treaty of Le Touquet could be at risk, with the consequential degradation of an important element of the UK’s border security as well as trade resilience.  The stakes are huge.

 

At this pivotal time as the UK adapts to a new trading relationship with the EU, emerges from Covid and faces renewed migration challenges, Dover needs government support and funding now.  This will improve the Port’s resilience for the nation and deliver the confidence its customers and their crucial supply chains need.

 

The Port of Dover remains at the disposal of the Commons Transport Committee should it require further information and would be keen to provide oral evidence should this de desired.

 

 

November 2021