Port operators across the UK are considering launching legal proceedings against the government over the cost of setting up post-Brexit border infrastructure that may never be needed.
UK ports have spent millions in building specialist inspection facilities for conducting phytosanitary checks on food and other high risk products coming into the country.
In April, however, the government postponed the introduction of these physical checks, announcing that it will instead introduce a new digital approach to the controls by the end of 2023.
The Loadstar reports ports’ concerns that the government is trying to offload responsibility for the costs of the facilities.
British Ports Association CEO Richard Ballantyne said: “Recently government suggested the decision to build facilities was a commercial choice.”
Previously, he said the government “effectively gave port operators an ultimatum” to provide border control posts or certain goods could not pass through their gateways.
UK Major Ports Group CEO Tim Morris said: “Government might try and walk away from the mess they’ve created, but the considerable investment many port operators have had to make to fill shortfalls in government funding mean this is not something ports can shrug their shoulders at.”
Sky News reports that the UK’s second busiest cross-Channel port in Portsmouth has a state-of-the-art £25m border control standing empty, with the local council looking at taking legal action against central government.
Portsmouth received £17.1m from the government to build the facility but had to borrow £7.8m to cover the total cost and has ongoing operating costs.
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, the Liberal Democrat leader of Portsmouth City Council, told the BBC that the council has been left to foot the bill when budgets are stretched.
“We have already consulted lawyers and already talked to other ports - this is their project and they need to pay for it. It’s down to the government to sort out this mess,” he said.
Trade minister Penny Mordaunt met with the minister for Brexit opportunities Jacob Rees-Mogg and tweeted: “We’ll work to find new opportunities for redundant facilities.”
‘Working with ports’
A Cabinet Office spokesman told ITV News:
“We are currently working with ports, including Portsmouth port, on an individual basis to assess the impact of the July import controls decision, and to address any issues or concerns they may have.
“This includes seeking to identify ways of preventing unnecessary additional capital cost and minimising ongoing costs.”
The government’s Port Infrastructure Fund paid out £200m in grants towards the cost of 41 border control posts at ports, railway stations and airports in December 2020.
However, the fund was massively oversubscribed and the UK Major Ports Association estimates ports themselves paid out an additional £100m to get the work done in time.