Port freight Quarterly Statistics: April To June 2022 Another Brexit Myth Busted

Graham Charles Lear
3 min readSep 16, 2022

A common — and false — narrative put out by Remainer/Rejoiners is that somehow Brexit has caused the UK’s ports to become almost impassable. Putting aside the normal summer holiday rush for cars, the UK’s freight has been passing through in increased numbers.

07 Sept 2022 the latest statistics on freight handled by British ports were released by the Government’s Department for Transport Maritime Division, showing clear increases in units handled and in overall tonnage.

Port freight quarterly statistics: April to June 2022

When comparing April to June 2022 with April to June 2021 through UK major ports:

  • Total freight tonnage increased by 4% to 113.5 million tonnes
  • Inward tonnage increased by 5% to 77.0 million tonnes
  • Outward tonnage increased by 1% to 36.5 million tonnes
  • A total volume of unitised traffic increased by 15% to 5.2 million units
  • Inward units increased by 15% to 2.7 million units
  • Outward units increased by 15% to 2.4 million units

[Source: Latest Dept for Transport Maritime Division’s official data, released Wed 07 Sept 2022.]

When comparing the rolling year to June 2022 with June 2021 through UK major ports:

  • Total tonnage increased by 4% to 447.9 million tonnes
  • The total volume of unitised traffic increased by 5% to 19.4 million units

Freight traffic and the Covid crisis

It is widely known that the entire world’s freight traffic has been affected by the Covid crisis. International trade dropped virtually across the board, and the United Kingdom was no exception. This position is now recovering.

Following increases in each quarter of 2021, tonnage traffic through UK major ports has continued to recover towards pre-pandemic levels. In quarter 2 (April to June) 2022, tonnage traffic was just 3% (4 million tonnes) below the same quarter in 2019, the smallest absolute difference since the pandemic began, when compared to the same quarter in 2019.

Over the past year, readers may have read social media posts with photos showing long queues at British ports, with Brexit being cited as the cause.

It is of course true that the EU tried to make life as difficult as possible for the UK, following the vote to leave the European Union. Lorry drivers were vocal about some of these difficulties, which included Dutch Customs officers rejecting manifests for “using the wrong colour ink” to French Customs officials adopting a highly bureaucratic approach to any freight involving the UK.

Given that French officials have a reputation — even amongst the French themselves — for being bureaucratic at the best of times, one can only imagine what the UK’s lorry drivers had to put up with.

“Despite Brexit”

Despite all of this, freight has continued to pass through British ports and my report above shows how volumes have been increasing.

The figures would have been even better but for two things. Firstly the freight agents at Southampton — one of the busiest ports in the country — were unable to provide their data to the Department of Transport on time, so their numbers have not been included. It must be assumed that volumes would have been even greater if Southampton’s data had been added.

Secondly, there is the question of GB-NI freight traffic. One of the many problems with the N.I. The protocol is that it has resulted in a severe dislocation of trade with Northern Ireland. The High Court in the Province declared that the Protocol has the effect of negating the Act of Union which guarantees free passage of trade with mainland Great Britain.

Whilst I do not have the details, I know from official export data that the goods trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland has suffered considerably, thereby deflating the figures.

Nevertheless, the numbers overall are looking good and they certainly defy another of the Rejoiners’ claims of doom and gloom.

Sources: Dept for Transport Maritime Division

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Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.