UK freight trains are being forced to leave the country’s biggest container port without a full load, in the latest sign that stockpiling to prepare for Britain’s break with the European Union is disrupting supply chains already strained by the coronavirus outbreak.
Some trains normally packed with everything from phones to the latest fashions are departing Felixstowe east of London without a portion of their consignments, in order to keep to allocated time slots and avoid performance fines, according to a person familiar with the situation who asked not to be named.
Heavy volume combined
with some delayed shipments have overwhelmed the port’s ability to keep up with container transfers. The failure to fill trains completely at Felixstowe could have a knock-on effect for consumers across central and northern Britain, which rely more on rail to deliver goods than locations to the south such as London. Truck traffic at Dover, the UK’s biggest ferry port, is experiencing mounting disruption in the thick of the holiday season.
The likelihood that the Brexit transition period will end on
December 31 without a trade accord rose after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that a no-deal split is “very, very likely.” That would mean the return of tariffs and quotas, alongside the prospect of even worse delays at the border as new paperwork requirements come into effect.
The failure to agree divorce terms has spurred companies to stock up before the deadline, fueling goods flows already being driven by the year-end holidays and efforts to rebuild inventories following pandemic lockdowns.
Amazon.com recommended to sellers that shipments between the UK and EU be sent before December 18 “to ensure they cross the UK border before customs clearance is required.” The online retail giant said it will stop cross-border transshipments from that day.
The surge has already created traffic disruption on both sides of the English Channel, with snarl-ups initially focused on Dover, spreading to container terminals like Felixstowe which mainly handle goods from Asia and which had been expected to ride out the transition largely unscathed. “The disruption has been significant, but we are working closely with the port to address it,” Julie Garn, head of intermodal services at GB Railfreight, said.