Coronavirus Emergency Bill: Keeping our trading gateways open should be a priority

Responding to the publication of the Government’s policy paper on its new Emergency Bill the British Ports Association has said that keeping the UK’s global gateways open for trade should be a priority.

Commenting Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive, British Ports Association said:

UK ports facilitate 95% of our trade and will be instrumental ensuring the country is 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. The industry is generally very supportive of the Government’s measures to bring the pandemic under control and is working hard to keep goods moving. Also we would expect that proposed new powers to potentially close individual ports will only be used in the most extreme circumstances.

These are unprecedented times and we are working closely with the UK Government and devolved administrations. Our ports are currently open and facilitating imports of food, supplies and resources. It will be important that Government staff at the frontline look to support this effort as best they can.

We have been speaking with our counterparts in Italy where the ports have remained open and we are learning from their experiences to keep our 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.

This is to ensure the UK can maintain adequate border security throughout the pandemic and protect the public from the threat of criminality or importation of prohibited items that could result from an inadequately controlled border.

This might only be used in extremis, where necessary and proportionate, and any direction will be kept to the minimum period necessary to maintain the security of the UK border. 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.

The British Ports Association represents all UK domestic passenger ports including Dover, Holyhead, Portsmouth and Southampton, 86% of port cargo activity in the UK and a range of other maritime activities such as serving the offshore energy, fishing, leisure and tourism sectors.