An official document predicting a “three-month meltdown” at UK ports unable to cope with extra checks after Brexit, has been dismissed as scaremongering by Downing Street, while a senior retail executive Logistics Middle East spoke to said the impact to the Middle East will be mild.
“We may have to go without Bakewell tarts and other uniquely British goods for a short while, but in the short-term the region will be able to source most goods from elsewhere if there are delays in the UK,” the executive, who asked not to be named, said.
The leaked document, detailing preparations under Operation Yellowhammer (the UK government’s codename for Brexit preparations) predicts a no-deal Brexit would lead to food, medicine and petrol shortages, as well as return to a hard border in Ireland.
Protests could break out across the UK, requiring significant police intervention, and two oil refineries could close, with thousands of job losses, according to the documents.
The impact of these scenarios in the Middle East market will be indirect.
Annual trade between Dubai and the UK is worth around US $9.6 billion, and the UAE as a whole is Britain’s sixth biggest overseas market (counting all EU countries as one), while the UK is the fourth largest import partner for the UAE.
The UK’s principal exports to Dubai include telecommunications, power generation equipment, electrical goods, transport equipment, office machinery, and home and consumer goods according to Chamber International.
The UK imports from the UAE machinery primarily, especially spark-ignition engines, according to Merchant Machine UK.
If there is indeed a three-month gridlock at UK ports, trade both ways will be impacted, even though the UK’s existing trade relationships with partners outside the EU will remain unchanged.
According to the UK Chamber of Shipping, 95% of the UK’s trade passes through its ports, making them extremely vulnerable to disruption in a no deal Brexit.
The port of Dover, England’s sea-based gateway to France, handling 17% of all UK trade, is particularly vulnerable to this worst-case scenario, but so are other gateways like Holyhead and Portsmouth.
DP World’s London Gateway in Southampton is something of an exception as it handles a lot of the UK’s trade for destinations beyond the EU.
DP World chairman Ahmed Bin Sulayem has previously insisted that it will be “business as usual” at London Gateway, while other DP World officials have said the port can absorb any added demand without congestion.
However, an op-ed for Ship Technology by Maritime UK chairman David Dingle casts doubt on these assertions due to limitations in the UK’s hinterland. “Once you leave the port gate, you find right away that connectivity to the main markets, and to the other ports, is poor,” he wrote.
“There is not enough capacity on our rail network, too few lanes, roads and bypasses on our motorway network, and difficult junctions in key bottleneck areas to allow for the smooth transfer of goods.”
All of this means delays for both UK exports to the UAE and British imports from the region.