Shipping and port bosses will warn Theresa May that a two-year transition period after Brexit will not be long enough to ensure “frictionless” trade continues in Dover and other British docks.
David Dingle, the chairman of Maritime UK, which represents marine and shipping industries, said he was “very nervous” about the future and concerned the government was putting £16bn worth of business in jeopardy with threats of no Brexit deal.
His concerns stemmed, he said, from the reality of developing new customs declarations systems in time to prevent gridlock at ports and their approach roads.
At a briefing on Thursday Dingle said it had taken HM Revenue and Customs “eight to 10 years” to put its latest customs declaration system in place. It is due to go live in October, suggesting a Brexit system will take many years to put in place.
The chairman of Carnival UK, which operates cruises for P&O, said: “Having looked at the time it takes, even in my own company, to build complex new systems, I would be sceptical we will be where we need to be in two years.”
Dingle, who will lead a delegation of industry leaders to meet Theresa May and the trade secretary, Liam Fox, on Monday, also criticised the leaked Brexit immigration plans, saying they would be a “straitjacket” for the industry.
“It raises concerns about the principles involved. Was a document like that based on really good analysis? Did it think about the fact that this country is a country with low levels of unemployment and what happens if you literally can’t fill jobs?” he told reporters.
It is the first meeting the shipping industry has had with May since the referendum and Dingle said the government needed to take its concerns more seriously.
He warned that there would be an “awful shutdown” in trade if May ended up with no deal, branding such a scenario as “daft”.