The government has awarded contracts to a number of firms to provide extra ferry services as part of it's no deal Brexit contingency plans.

What reason is there for supposing traffic through our ports will increase.

I understand that additional delays at customs causing bottlenecks are expected, so more customs staff to handle that would make sense, but extra ferry services doesn't.

So why are they awarding these contracts?

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    They seem to be adding more point-to-point connections so that if one port is completely jammed by waiting trucks, they can still use another port. In a worst-case scenario, they could reserve certain ferry ports for vital cargo that must get through.
    – o.m.
    Jan 3, 2019 at 20:02
  • @o.m. now that would seem to make some sense.
    – Pelinore
    Jan 3, 2019 at 20:06
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    Never rule out the possibility that a contract awarded by a state, to a private sector company... Is simply nepotism, corruption, or idiocy. It might not be... But just keep it in the back of your mind...
    – Richard
    Jan 6, 2019 at 1:13

2 Answers 2


In the event of a no-deal crash out of the EU, France, Belgium and the Netherlands would be obliged to introduce checks at their ports for goods arriving from the UK. Those checks would create severe delays, which would result in massive queues in the UK as freight has to wait for the receiving port to be ready before setting sail.

The UK government's plan to reduce the delays is to provide additional services to other ports, spreading the load. This involves adding extra ferries and re-opening closed ports in the UK. Of course, it is reliant on the receiving ports having the infrastructure and capacity to handle the extra ships and customs checks too.

In practice it's unlikely to have any significant effect on throughput or do much to alleviate the catastrophic effects of a no-deal brexit. The government likely knows that, but wants to be seen to be preparing for such an eventuality for a number of reasons. It may be designed to convince the EU that the UK will go through with a no-deal crash, while also trying to reassure British voters and businesses that it won't be so bad.

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    Or it might be aimed at convincing the public that it will be that bad, so that they support May's deal instead. Jan 4, 2019 at 13:23
  • I wouldn't put it past them to piss away hundreds of millions of Pounds and drive away business just to secure her legacy, that's true.
    – user
    Jan 4, 2019 at 19:26

As you pointed out, there will be a sizeable bottleneck at the border, and this will be no small matter, as delays may well apply to both persons coming from the EU, and vehicles. We've already seen the effects of problems at Dover port and the channel tunnel, and the somewhat limited response in the UK known as 'operation stack'.

More border officers are part of the solutions, but time is very limited now and even with 6 months - 1 year there are only so many border officers that can be hired, even if there was no point of diminishing returns in terms of how much faster more staff can operate the facilities and the border.

In addition to this, there is significant concern from businesses about how they will be able to get product and materials in and out of the country in a timely fashion; this has included concerns about critical goods such as medicine.

Having more ferries and more ferry routes to different ports is unlikely to solve the above issues completely, but will help alleviate them. It will also give the government additional options such as using the additional capacity for priority shipments.

  • But there's still not going to be any more traffic so I would have thought building more customs infrastructure to go with the extra staff (you're right more staff on each gate won't help past a certain point, you need more gates as well) at the normal ports used would have been more effective. Unless there's already existing congestion issues with the roads & routes from the ports currently used that they're trying to alleviate with this I can't see it helping much at all, & if that's the case it means it's not the "Brexit" issue they've labelled it as?
    – Pelinore
    Jan 3, 2019 at 20:44
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    It might well be that Brexit creates more traffic if the change of rules disrupts existing traffic patterns. More trucks running empty or half-empty because they cannot do "triangle trade" any more -- one truck bringing groceries and returning empty, another truck coming empty and fetching car parts.
    – o.m.
    Jan 4, 2019 at 7:13
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    @Pelinore the other thing is they may want to avoid over committing resources that if brexit doesn't have the impact expected or takes a different form (or doesn't happen at all) will then not be needed. in these circumstances ferry services may well still be useful or can be "sold back to the market" to recover costs. You are also assuming that Dover and or other ports can accommodate significantly more border resources and that these can be put in place quickly which may not be the case. Jan 4, 2019 at 7:44
  • There isn't necessarily space to build additional infrastructure. And the UK government can't order the construction of additional infrastructure in Calais, which is one of the places that's going to be full.
    – pjc50
    Jan 4, 2019 at 16:09

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