I have not met with Dover Port officials as it would be inappropriate in light of ongoing Brexit negotiations.
I have, however, met my UK counterpart, Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling on Brexit matters on three occasions over the past 20 months.
In relation to the most recent meeting of 8 November, the parameters of the discussion were clearly communicated to the Secretary of State in advance, in particular the need to fully respect the mandate of the EU’s Chief Negotiator in negotiating for the EU 27 and that the discussion could not stray into the area of negotiations.
At that meeting, I set out the importance of continued transport connectivity between Ireland and to the UK, highlighting the importance of the UK landbridge for Ireland as a route to European markets, and the need for Irish trade to move efficiently through ports.
Disruption on the Dover – Calais maritime link could considerably disrupt hauliers and the estimated €21 billion of trade that crosses between Ireland and Europe via the UK landbridge, much of it travelling via the Dover-Calais link.
Last month, I briefed my colleagues in Government on the existing maritime capacity for direct sailings between Ireland and continental EU ports as a potential alternative route for trade currently using the landbridge. However, the landbridge is, as the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) has found in its study into the implications of Brexit on the use of the landbridge, a strategically important route to market for many Irish importers and exporters, including but not limited to agrifood, seafood and other sectors trading in time sensitive produce. These sectors would be particularly adversely affected by any deterioration in transit times at UK or continental EU ports or increases in costs particularly in a no-deal scenario, and these sectors may not be able to opt for the direct maritime routes to the continent, given the longer journey times involved.
Irish officials have also met with French counterparts to discuss how Irish trucks can move through French ports after transiting through the UK. I also met French Transport Minister Borne on Brexit matters in November. My Department – through its own work and through participation in the Landbridge Project Group chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – continues to monitor the extent to which Government agencies at the port of Calais in particular are stepping up preparedness for checks on products from and flowing through the UK, which is critical for products that need the time advantage offered by the landbridge.
Ireland is also working with the European Commission and other affected Member States (Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden) regarding preparation of EU ports to facilitate the transit of EU products through the UK, using EU rules on internal transit set out under the Union’s Custom Code. This work is intensifying and progress is being made. However, there may be bottlenecks or congestion at ports in the event of a no deal Brexit.