British cargo is due to set sail for the Far East – but the uncertainty clouding Brexit means its fate is unknown.
On Monday afternoon, the Liberian-operated boat Thalassa Mana will set sail from Felixstowe bound for Osaka in Japan, carrying freight from the Suffolk port to the other side of the world.
A senior MP warns that questions over whether those items can be unloaded or what tariffs will apply when they arrive on 30 March mean they are “sailing into an uncertain future”.
The fears stem from around 40 EU trade deals which the UK benefits from, but which it must re-sign with each individual country or international partner to stay in force after exit day.
A leaked document from the Department for International Trade last week found just six of those deals are on-track to stay in place by 29 March.
The vast majority were colour-coded red in a traffic light system and labelled “significantly off-track”.
Japan was listed as “not possible to be completed by March 2019”.
A government source told Sky News at the time the document was out of date and “doesn’t show the whole trade picture”.
But International Trade Secretary Liam Fox seemed unfazed when quizzed on the progress in parliament. He admitted many rollover deals “will go down to the wire” because “that’s the way countries do business”.
As the Thalassa Mana prepares to set sail from Felixstowe, chair of the influential Commons business select committee Rachel Reeves said UK businesses were “being made to walk the plank”.
“Thanks to the utter chaos created by Brexit, cargo ships full of goods are now sailing into an uncertain future,” she said.
“This ship sailing today is an example of the damaging uncertainty facing businesses and exporters – it is setting sail with no idea what trading conditions it will face upon arrival.”
She called it the “perfect metaphor for the uncertain post-Brexit future the government is leading us towards”.
“It’s time to conclude that the ship is sailing on Brexit: it is time to give the public the final say through a People’s Vote,” the Labour MP for Leeds West added.
The Thalassa Mana’s voyage comes the first working day after the point that Business Secretary Greg Clark suggested was the deadline for British exporters to countries such as Japan.
He told the business select committee earlier this month: “The farthest sea journey is from here to Japan. And I’m told that takes about six weeks.”
Asked if that meant the deadline is mid-February, Mr Clark responded: “In that instance.”
Mr Clark is one of several cabinet ministers rumoured to be threatening to resign if the government pursues a no-deal Brexit policy.
On Saturday, Justice Secretary David Gauke was pushed repeatedly by Sky News to confirm if he would stand down under what he described as a not a “responsible course of action”.
He eventually admitted: “I won’t support an irresponsible policy.”
Felixstowe port announced last month it had agreed to increase some of its freight capacity by more than 40% to “minimise risks… resulting from Brexit”.
(c) Sky News 2019: British cargo bound for Japan sets sail into ‘unknown future’