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House of Commons Hansard
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Leaving the EU: Ports
05 July 2018
Volume 644
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5. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the level of transport-related activity at ports of the UK leaving the EU. [906266]

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UK ports are adaptive and market-oriented. They are ready to facilitate growth in trade when we leave the EU. Over the medium and longer-term, patterns of maritime and inland traffic may be affected by the trade agreements we reach with the EU and with countries elsewhere. It is too early to predict in detail what those patterns will be, but ports nationwide are prepared for all likely eventualities.

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The stunningly picturesque river port of Fowey is a magnet for visitors by both land and sea, but it is also a busy commercial port that ships the world’s finest china clay around the world. How will the Department’s recently published port connectivity study assist small river ports like Fowey?

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As we plan infrastructure improvements over the coming years, I want us to look at how we best connect, in the most effective way possible, the ports upon which our country depends, both large and small. Of course, my hon. Friend will be aware that we are already demonstrating our commitment to improving the road network in his area, with the planned completion of the new link road up to the A30.

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The Government have moved from saying they want trade with the EU post-Brexit to be tariff-free to saying that they want it to be as tariff-free as possible. In which sectors of the economy and industry does the Secretary of State think it will be acceptable for there to be tariffs?

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In relation to ports.

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As the hon. Lady will be aware, this is not really a transport matter. Our ports will be ready, and our plans for how we manage our borders will be ready for all eventualities, but I want, I believe and I expect that we will have a sensible agreement with the European Union that avoids the charging of tariffs. That is certainly what the EU wants, and it is what we want.

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My Inverclyde constituency has a thriving port at Greenock, with cruise ships and container ships docking on a daily basis. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the systems, including IT systems, that will be required post-Brexit are well on their way to completion so that ports such as Greenock will not be adversely affected by the UK leaving the European Union?

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The answer is yes but, of course, most of our ports are well used to dealing with traffic from both inside and outside the European Union. Those handling freight move it through extremely quickly and effectively, and they have great expertise in doing so. I am very optimistic that our ports will do a great job in the post-Brexit world.

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In his opening remarks the Secretary of State said it is too early to predict the effects on transport at ports. That is ridiculous, considering that we will leave the EU in March 2019. Half of his Cabinet is arguing for a no-deal Brexit, so it is coming at us really fast. We already know it is predicted that an extra two minutes of checks at Dover would result in 30-mile tailbacks, so what is he doing to put in place IT systems and border infrastructure systems that allow joined-up, continued free movement?

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The Government and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are doing extensive work for all eventualities. As I have previously said in the House, we do not intend to impose any form of hard border in Dover. It would be logistically impossible to do so, and therefore any flow of customs through Dover in the post-Brexit world will have to be managed in an online, electronic way. It is not possible to create fixed systems at Dover.