Portsmouth International Port

Portsmouth International Port

UK ports are threatening Westminster with legal action unless they are compensated for the millions they have spent building new border control facilities that may never be used, reports Sky News.

Ports across the UK have built border control posts designed to carry out the post-Brexit physical spot checks on European plant and animal products (fruit, veg, meat, fish, cheese and timber) that were due to come into force from 1 July 2022.

But last April the UK government announced that these new UK-EU post-Brexit border control rules would be put on hold until at least the end of next year amid concerns about the cost-of-living crisis.

The UK’s second busiest cross-Channel port Portsmouth told Sky News that its £25m temperature-controlled border control post was finished on time for the July deadline and is ready to go, but the state-of-the-art new facility to be staffed by 67 officials is currently standing empty and may never be used.

Portsmouth Port is owned by the local council and the new facility’s ongoing operating costs are causing a serious drain on resources and forcing the council to cut other local services, the council told the broadcaster.

Consequently, Portsmouth City Council is looking at taking legal action against the government alongside other ports.

“The government told us we had to build this, it told us the exact specifications it had to be built to. Now I have to find £7.8m that they wouldn’t fund, even though they told us to build it. I now have to cut other services residents rely on and that’s really galling,” Gerald Vernon-Jackson, the Liberal Democrat leader of Portsmouth City Council, told Sky News.

“We have already consulted lawyers and already talked to other ports - this is their project and they need to pay for it. It’s down to the government to sort out this mess.”

Sky News said the government’s Port Infrastructure Fund paid out £200m in grants towards the cost of 41 border control posts at ports, railway stations and airports in December 2020. But the fund was oversubscribed and the UK Major Ports Association estimates ports themselves paid out an additional £100m to get the work done in time.

Commenting on the government’s decision to postpone new Brexit border controls, British Ports Association chief executive Richard Ballantyne told Sky News: “If they decided two or three years ago that we were only going to have no checks and controls, or only limited checks and controls and targeted processes on our borders then we wouldn’t have had to go to the effort and expense of building such facilities.

“It’s been a very frustrating time for us to go through the motions of going through planning permission, recruiting and appointing contractors, even recruiting staff.

“Industry and government worked well together to build these facilities at pace to be told they’re not going to be needed and potentially moving over to a completely different arrangement. We’ve been left with these effectively white elephants at our ports - the industry has been left reeling and we need action from government.”

In a statement the Cabinet Office told Sky News: “We are currently working with ports, including Portsmouth port, on an individual basis to assess the impact of the July import controls decision, and to address any issues or concerns they may have. This includes seeking to identify ways of preventing unnecessary additional capital cost and minimising ongoing costs.”