Baroness Jenny Randerson writes…For our transport sector Brexit means we are currently going nowhere fast

Although few people have talked about it, Brexit is going to raise serious issues about how we get about. Our transport sector faces practical problems that need to be solved, or at least grappled with. These are issues that affect us in everyday life. I am pretty sure that people who voted to leave still expect to be able to fly abroad to their summer holidays and to buy goods that have been transported safely and in a timely manner from other countries. There is a simple, practical fact about which nobody—no referendum, no decision—can do anything: the continent of Europe, the land mass, stands between us and much of the rest of the world.

One immediate issue is the Channel Tunnel. The dream of the Channel Tunnel long predates the European Union, but the tunnel was constructed while Britain was a member and it has been executed and managed with EU membership at the forefront. It is privately financed and privately run by an Anglo-French consortium and its scale is simply enormous—400 trains a day, 50,000 passengers a day and 54,000 tonnes of freight a day. We cannot ignore that the British border is in France, an arrangement which has already been put under considerable doubt.

It is clear that many who voted to leave did so in the expectation of tighter border controls. This conflicts with the inspiration behind the Channel Tunnel, to have freer and faster movement of both people and goods between Britain and France. Any moves to implement tighter controls or to apply them in different ways will inevitably have an impact on business and on the enormous investment that the Channel Tunnel represents.

Turning to air travel, Britain is part of the single European sky project. Europe has competence on air traffic management and the Single European Sky project de-fragments European airspace. It reduces flight times. It is good for the environment. It increases safety. Airspace is divided into blocks: Functional Airspace Blocks. We share one—a unified block—with Ireland, which of course will remain part of the EU. About 90% of North Atlantic traffic passes through this block. It is part of the modernisation of air traffic management technologies and I hope that it is pretty obvious that we need to remain part of it. But here is the catch. The European Aviation Safety Agency has competence over our airports, air traffic management and air navigation services as part of this modernisation scheme. Will the Brexiteers be happy for this element of EU control to remain?

The aerospace industry is worth billions of pounds to our economy and employs thousands of people. Freight transport—whether by road, rail, sea or air—is our lifeblood with, in the first quarter of this year, 700,000 vehicles travelling from Britain to mainland Europe. We all know about the impact last summer of the delays around Dover when we had Operation Stack. It caused a loss of time and money for those in the industry, but it also destroyed goods. Delays mean the decay of goods in the freight industry, so changes in border control will have an impact.

Finally, I emphasise the importance that EU legislation has had on our roads. The tachograph, regulations on drivers’ hours, standards of vehicles, the loading of vehicles: they all affect us every day as we drive on our roads.

The EU has played a key role over the years in the direction in which our transport industry has moved. We have a lot to consider in the coming weeks, months, and years and transport is only one small piece of the wider picture, but it is a vital piece to keep in mind. If only someone in the Leave camp had come up with a Brexit plan…

* Jenny Randerson is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, and is the party's front bench spokesperson on transport.

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6 Comments

  • Richard Easter 10th Jul '16 - 9:20am

    Interesting how the transport unions (RMT and ASLEF) over here supported Brexit, citing EU Rail Liberalisation directives, TTIP and the attacks on French and former Eastern Bloc rail workers conditions which they link (either rightly or wrongly) to comply with an EU rail privatisation agenda, and opening up the rail market away from nation state provision.

  • Alderman Becket may be aware that it used to be possible to get on a bus at Betley (a village he served with distinction for many years) and alight in Chester.

    No longer. Largely because of EU regulations which place onerous conditions on longer bus routes.

  • @crewegwyn re: EU regulations on long bus routes.

    I did a quick internet search on this. I suspect the truth is not as you and some bus operators portray 🙂

    Because it would seem the relevant EU directive , that the bus operators were consulted on, merely limits the hours of drivers on routes longer than 50km (30m) to 9 hours a day. In all the articles I’ve managed to locate, the operators give no substantive reason other than ‘blame the EU’ as to explicitly why they have behaved as they have, which draws suspicion on the operators motives…

  • Jane Ann Liston 11th Jul '16 - 9:56am

    My concern is if Scotland goes its own way, resulting in a ‘hard’ border with England. I am appalled at the prospect of having to have a passport to travel by rail or even by road between Edinburgh and London.

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