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Shippers contacted by ATG said they feared hold-ups at Dover even if the government votes to support Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal later this month.

“I believe the government should have been better prepared for the UK leaving the EU and given greater thought to the actual logistics involved,” said Andrew Jackman, owner and director of fine art and antiques shippers Alban Shipping.

“Our port and road infrastructure expansion should have been instigated many months ago so that as an industry, we are confident that should we leave the EU, the predicted delays at ports are kept to a minimum.”

Jackman added that “no carrier wishes to be directed to M20 lorry parks [in Dover], due to poor infrastructure or customs backlogs due to the sheer volume of customs entries to be processed, which will inevitably cause further delays”.

Sian Morgan, director of international art market shipper K Pak, which is Masterpiece London’s official transport partner, said that shippers “feel in limbo” about how Brexit will affect crossing borders into and within the EU.

“Ideally objects can pass forward and back to the EU without tariffs but the closer we get to March I doubt that will happen,” she told ATG.

Grace period

At the same time, art shippers ATG has spoken to have welcomed the EU’s plan, announced in December, to allow tariff-free movement of goods into EU countries by sea and air for a nine-month period after the UK leaves the EU, in the event of no trade deal.

“Any contingency plan would be welcome in this current climate,” said Oliver Howell, managing director of Gander & White.

“However, it seems as though we read a different view and proposal each day. We are prepared for all eventualities with the procedures we have set up.”

Greg Bradley, of Bradley’s Furniture Carriers in Darlington, described the grace period as “a good start”. He hoped nine months would be “enough time to see how Brexit will affect trade with Europe and policy makers will be able to make some sensible decisions to keep the movement of free trade”.

Extra costs

Shippers are warning of extra costs if the UK leaves the EU’s customs union. Bradley said export duties “could affect prices realised at auction, as clients will have to factor this additional expense”.