Britain’s Ports Are Jammed, and Brexit Is Around the Corner

“That is still working itself out,” said Alex Veitch, the general manager of public policy at Logistics U.K., a trade group. Aggravating...

“That is still working itself out,” said Alex Veitch, the general manager of public policy at Logistics U.K., a trade group.

Aggravating the problem in Britain has been a large shipment of medical masks, gowns, gloves and other equipment ordered for the National Health Service and, temporarily, left at Felixstowe in storage. At the end of November, the port operator said it was working with the government to clear the mountain of shipping containers, some of which were moved to former airfields. The port had also hired staff and expanded its opening hours to unblock the congestion.

Felixstowe had drawn complaints before the pandemic. It is one of the least efficient major market container ports in the world, according to data from IHS Markit. It has struggled to deal with growing international trade and larger ships carrying more containers. It takes twice as long to move a container on or off a ship in Felixstowe as it does in some of China’s busiest ports, IHS Markit data shows.

Because Felixstowe and other deep-sea ports mostly handle trade from Asia, these delays aren’t the same as what is expected to come in the new year, when Britain breaks away from its largest trading partner.

From Jan. 1, Britain’s trading relationship to the European Union will change and customs checks and, possibly, tariffs will be introduced. While a trade deal is still being negotiated, border processes will change regardless. For the first time, hundreds of thousands of businesses will need to complete customs checks and other new trading requirements.

The government has been warning businesses to prepare, but trade groups say some companies have been too busy dealing with the fallout from the pandemic. Mr. Ward said importers and exporters were less prepared, though warehouses and transport operators have done what they can.

The crunch point is likely to be on the south coast, in Dover or Folkestone, the busiest places for the transport of goods between Britain and the European Union, either on trucks carried across the English Channel on ferries or on trains through the channel tunnel.

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Newsrust: Britain’s Ports Are Jammed, and Brexit Is Around the Corner
Britain’s Ports Are Jammed, and Brexit Is Around the Corner
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