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Why Dover must remain at the heart of the UK’s social and economic agenda

By Tim Reardon  

This article was produced in association with Port of Dover

The Port of Dover handles up to £122 billion, or 17%, of the UK’s trade in goods. More than 2.6 million lorries used the port last year, carrying exports from British factories and farms to markets in the EU and delivering goods to consumers across the UK. Half the lorries entering the country at Dover are bound for destinations in the Midlands, the North of England, and Scotland.

Thanks to its geographic position on the shortest crossing point between the UK and mainland Europe, the port handles up to 180km of freight traffic each day. That’s a queue from Dover to Stansted Airport in the UK or, in the other direction, across the Continent from Calais almost to the heart of Brussels. It is a mark of the efficiency of the port that this traffic only gets noticed when something, usually in the wider logistics chain, goes wrong. Indeed, lorries have not been parked on the M20 motorway (Operation Stack) since 2015.

Dover handles 120 ferry movements per day: 60 outbound and 60 inbound. Each ferry berths, unloads some 3 kilometres of traffic, embarks another 3 kilometres of traffic, and then sets sail again in just 45-50 minutes. Most of the lorries that arrive every day are out of the port within just five minutes of driving off their ferry.

The scale and efficiency of Dover’s roll-on roll-off ferry operation is simply impossible to replicate elsewhere, and essential to maintaining our collective way of life. The just-in-time supply chains that keep factories busy and shops full rely on Dover, for its capacity and speed. Seafood landed on a Scottish quayside one day can be served to an appreciative customer in France the next. Equally, fresh food bought in a British supermarket on a Saturday can have been still growing on a European farm on the Friday. Operating in this way without an inventory is vital to keep exports competitive and to enable UK retailers to keep prices low.

Internationally renowned independent economic analysts Oxera have estimated the economic value of the connectivity provided by Dover to be worth up to £3 billion. They have also said that, in a no-deal Brexit, the most significant impacts for UK consumers are likely to be a rise in food prices – supermarkets have estimated that there would be a 12% increase.

Low-income UK households spend around one-fifth of their income on food and it is those who can least afford it who would be hardest hit by a rise in prices. Sending some of the traffic to other ports is not an answer. The routes are too long and the sailings too infrequent for the fastmoving just-in-time traffic handled on the Dover Straits. Re-routeing a small number of lorries, carrying premium cargoes at a higher price, may suit the needs of a few customers but cannot serve the many who will remain reliant on the high-volume supply route. To replicate Dover’s capacity, ten times as many ferries would be needed on longer routes across the North Sea, and no such fleet exists.

Dover is the port for everyone and must remain so. It keeps the shops full for everyone. It keeps prices lower for everyone. No wonder it has seen record freight volumes for the last five years, two of those being since the EU referendum. That is why it has been so central to the Brexit conversation and that is why keeping traffic flowing through this critical gateway just as it does today will be as essential after Brexit as it has been before.

We must get Dover right because there is no alternative.


With the support of the Port of Dover, Prospect will be hosting a panel at the 2018 Labour party conference. Speakers included: Tom Clerk, Editor, Prospect; Barry Gardiner MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade; Tim Reardon, Head of EU Exit, Port of Dover; Adam Marshall, Director-General, British Chambers of Commerce


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