Dutch port aims to keep on trucking despite Brexit 'chaos'

The Hague (AFP) –


While Boris Johnson scrambled Friday to sell his EU divorce deal to parliament, the Dutch port of Rotterdam handed out "Brexit Muppet" leaflets to truckers to prepare them for whatever happens.

Staff at Europe's busiest seaport have stepped up a campaign to ensure lorry drivers, companies and exporters are ready for the impact of Britain's departure from the EU, especially if there is no divorce agreement.

Dutch authorities have set up temporary parking spaces for the thousands of lorries they fear could arrive without the right paperwork if Britain crashes out with no deal on the British PM's promised exit date of October 31.

"We are of course very worried about a no-deal Brexit, because it would have a lot of implications, especially in the short-term with all kinds of traffic jams," Mark Dijk, external affairs manager for the Port of Rotterdam, told AFP.

"Of course it will be chaos, you can't prepare everything. But we think... we've done everything we can."

Wearing orange hi-vis vests with "Get Ready for Brexit" on the back, port workers braved wind and rain to distribute booklets with information on customs procedures that will change once Britain leaves the 28-nation bloc.

The port is now handing out 25,000 of the leaflets -- which carry a picture of a furry blue monster that the Dutch government has adopted as its symbol of Brexit chaos, lying down on a road barrier to block a lorry.

It is also putting up banners in key locations, and leaving Brexit information folders at 12 trucker cafes and parking areas in the port area.

- 'Is England ready for Brexit!' -

Some of the truckers seemed familiar with the Brexit information, while others, including many from Eastern Europe, appeared bemused by the leaflets.

"Is England ready for Brexit!" Dutch lorry driver Peet van der Akker shouted as he passed through the port, adding that "I don't hope" Johnson would get his deal through parliament, and that Britain would stay in the EU.

Dijk said 82 percent of trucks that pass through Rotterdam had registered on the "Portbase" system, which links the Dutch customs service with ports and aims to ensure smooth passage despite Brexit, "but that still means 18 percent is not registered."

"And if you realise that around 3,000 or 4000 trucks a day are coming in and going out, then there are still 300 or 400 trucks daily that are not prepared."

Rotterdam has been planning almost since the day Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016, given that trade between Britain and Rotterdam amounts to 40 million tonnes a year.

Brexit is expected to make that figure dip by up to 30 percent, depending on the kind of arrangement Britain makes with the EU afterwards, hitting the port's overall business by between two and four percent, Dijk said.

The leafleting campaign is crucial to ensuring that things keep moving and the effect on trade is not even worse, officials say.

"It's very important that all the preparations are done before they come here," said Marty van Pelt, communications manager for Portbase, who is responsible for its "Get Ready for Brexit" programme.

As for whether Johnson can win what is set to be a knife-edge parliamentary vote on Saturday on his Brexit deal with the EU, van Pelt was hopeful.

"Let's hope there will be some kind of deal, I think it's better for all of us, for logistics in general, for the economy," he said. "But we?ll have to wait and see what parliament will decide."