Irish shipping to bypass British ports after Brexit

James Crisp
Lorries wait to board a ferry at the port of Dover in the early hours. Irish hauliers use Britain as a gateway to continental Europe.  - Getty Images Europe

Shipping companies in Ireland are making plans to bypass British ports after Brexit and travel direct to continental Europe to avoid new customs checks and possible tailbacks.  

Irish hauliers, who use Britain as a staging post to travel to Europe, have brought forward new direct routes, despite British government promises that future trade will be frictionless as it is now and agreement on a Brexit transition period prolonging the status quo until the end of 2020.

Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, has repeatedly warned that frictionless trade is impossible outside of the bloc’s single market and customs union even if there is a UK-EU free trade agreement.  

CLdN, a Luxembourg-based shipping company, has introduced two “mega vessels” on new direct freight routes between Dublin with the Belgian port of Zeebrugge and the Dutch port of Rotterdam.

Irish Continental Group will boost weekly  freight   capacity from 120 to 1,155 trucks between Dublin and the French port of Cherbourg this summer. Brittany ferries will this month start a service between Cork and Santander in Spain

“In anticipation of Brexit, the shipping community was looking for alternative solutions” CLdN told the Financial Times.

Freight between the two countries will continue to be busy even if the direct routes do lessen the traffic.

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Meanwhile, British Brexit negotiators face a race against the clock to convince the EU it can prevent the return of customs on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

An April 18 meeting between top UK and EU officials Olly Robbins and Sabine Weyand has been identified as a crunch point in negotiations over the “so-called backstop clause”. The Guardian reported on Friday that no new proposals have been put forward. 

Theresa May  has ruled out a European Commission proposal to keep Northern Ireland in the single market and customs union, which would create a new border in the Irish Sea, if Britain’s preferred options of a free trade agreement or innovative technical solutions  fail.

Britain must find an alternative before the June EU summit or risk the final Brexit deal not being finished in time for it to be ratified by national governments and the European Parliament before the 29 March 2019 deadline.

Read more | Brexit and the Irish border question