Charting a bright course for the UK shipping industry

Writing exclusively for the UK Chamber, Brexit minister Robin Walker argues that shipping will play a key part in achieving the UK’s ambition to be a major trading nation outside the EU

Britain is one of the world’s greatest maritime nations. Throughout our history, we have sought to expand and promote global trade across the oceans.

We have always been at our best when we are outward-looking, and our shipping industry epitomises this key strength — helping us build connections with markets around the world through the exchange of goods and ideas.

As a trading nation, we have long relied on the courage and ambition of our seafarers – from early trade around the Mediterranean that predates the Romans, to today’s giant cargo vessels carrying goods from our ports to the Far East.

As Britain negotiates its exit from the EU, we have the chance to chart a bright new course for our country and for this important industry.

Indeed, the UK’s maritime sector and our seafarers are set fair to capitalise on their international reputation at a time when seaborne commerce is greater than at any time in human history.

Shipping plays an integral role in the UK’s economy. By weight, around 95 per cent of our imports and exports were moved by ship in 2016, including an estimated 40 per cent of our food supplies and at least a quarter of our energy.     

While the UK is leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe and will continue working closely with our neighbours, friends and allies.

The UK is, for example, seeking a continued system for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. We also want to maintain our work with other European countries in ensuring the highest safety standards across the maritime industry.   

In addition, the UK will continue to play a central role in global maritime bodies – the International Maritime Organisation and the International Labour Organisation – that regulate the shipping industry.

I have welcomed continued close engagement with our maritime industry — your views play a key role in helping us shape our future success as an outward-looking, global trading nation.

During our conversations with shipping companies about Brexit, we have listened to your concerns on customs arrangements — such as the continuation of frictionless roll-on roll-off traffic at our ports, and how this will affect ferries sailing to and from the Continent.

We want our new customs arrangements to remain as frictionless as possible, and our aim is to agree a deep and special economic partnership with the Union.

In our Customs Bill White Paper last year, we set out plans to legislate for stand-alone customs, VAT and excise regimes after Brexit.

The completion of the first phase of negotiations with the EU was an important step forward for both sides, and discussions will now begin on our future partnership.

Britain and the EU have a shared desire to reach rapid progress on an implementation period, which will help bring certainty to our maritime industries and give businesses time to adjust to one new set of arrangements.

While cross-channel trade is important, it is also vital that we make the right preparations for trade across the Irish and North seas, and for the growing proportion of our maritime trade that comes from beyond the shores of Europe.

Leaving the EU gives Britain the chance to agree ambitious new trade deals with other countries around the world.

In fact, we are already in discussion about increasing trade with countries such as the United States, Australia, China, India and others.

A strong, successful shipping industry will be pivotal to our success as we seek to become an ever more outward-looking, globally connected economy.

This is a truly exciting time for the UK to build on its reputation as a dynamic, prosperous, trading nation – and our maritime industries will be right at the heart of this new wave of British enterprise.


robin walker mp

Robin Walker MP is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union (DexEU). 

This article was written for and published in the UK Chamber's Journal 2018.