The British Ports Association has urged that UK ports be kept open if at all possible, and that the Home Secretary’s new power to close ports in the event of there being too few UK Border Force staff available to prevent illegal migrants, should only be implemented with a sound knowledge of the implications for food supplies to the rest of the country.
The BPA said that keeping the UK’s global gateways open for trade should be a priority.
BPA chief executive Richard Ballantyne noted that UK ports facilitated 95% of the UK’s trade and would be instrumental in ensuring that the country was fed and resourced in the coming weeks. “Half of the UK’s food is imported and it will be critical to keep our ports open so that shops, public services, and businesses are supplied with what the country needs, he said, adding that the industry was generally very supportive of the Government’s measures to bring the pandemic under control, and was working hard to keep goods moving.
The BPA anticipated that the proposed new powers to potentially close individual ports would only be used “in the most extreme circumstances”.
Ballantyne said that the BPA had been speaking with its counterparts in Italy, where the ports have remained open, and that the BPA had been learning from their experiences to keep the UK’s gateways operational.
The new Bill will enable the Home Secretary to request that port and airport operators temporarily close and suspend operations if Border Force staff shortages result in “a real and significant threat” to the UK’s border security.
Ballantyne said: “We trust that these powers would only be enacted suddenly without consideration of the implications. We would expect a sunset clause on these powers so that they expire once the pandemic is brought under control.”