Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
The Prime Minister describing truckers bypassing north Wales as a sign of Brexit success means it is “no wonder” that support for Welsh independence is rising, Anglesey’s economic chief has claimed.
The comments follow a commons committee where Boris Johnson described trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain as “flowing so smoothly” that many exporters are now using this route at the expense of those such as Holyhead to Dublin.
The ports of Holyhead and Fishguard have both experienced post-Brexit slumps with Stena reporting a 70% drop in freight trade on Welsh-ROI routes compared to previous years.
This has been blamed on previous stockpiling prior to the end of the transition period and a rise in direct services between Ireland and the EU, mainly thanks to new sailings via France.
The island’s MP admitted there was currently “fluctuation” as businesses get to grips with the new rules, confident that the current patterns are only short-term.
But with more red tape now in place – as well as the ongoing effects of Covid-19 – there are fears that this may be a permanent phenomenon affecting the many hundreds of workers employed both directly and indirectly at the port, which is Holyhead’s biggest employer.
Responding to a question on food shortages and increased prices in Northern Ireland since the turn of the year, Boris Johnson said during Wednesday’s Liaison Committee: “The situation in Northern Ireland is that trade is flowing smoothly, as I understand it, and exporters are benefiting from the unfettered access between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
“I believe that things are flowing so smoothly from GB to NI, for instance, that many hauliers are now using that route rather than the Holyhead- Dublin route. I am not going to deny that there are teething problems, and issues that we need to sort out.
“There are changes involved, but the deal has been a great assistance to our businesses in smoothing those.”
But the comments have seen a robust response from Anglesey Council’s economic chief, noting he “couldn’t believe” that the Prime Minister would “so publicly dismiss Brexit’s adverse impact on the north Wales economy.”
Cllr Carwyn Jones went on to say: “Stena announcing that lorry traffic at Holyhead had fallen to about a third of its usual capacity and doubling its services between France and Ireland, for North Wales, is not a success.
“He also claims that trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is flowing smoothly, but this is patently untrue as the Stena Embla has been moved from Liverpool to Belfast to the Rosslare to Cherbourg route.
“In light of Mr Johnson’s incompetence and obvious disdain for the people of Wales is it no wonder that momentum for Welsh independence is growing, surely that must now be road to take which will lead to success.”
His Plaid Cymru colleague, MS Rhun ap Iorwerth, descibed Mr Johnson’s remarks as “astonishing,” stressing that any permanent fall in traffic through Holyhead Port would cost jobs.
He added, “I’m hoping this is not a permanent phenomenon, and we have to ensure that there’s investment in the port to help it attract more trade.”
But the island’s Conservative MP remains more hopeful, saying there was much fluctuation in the system as businesses adjust to the new requirements, adding that traffic flows are below normal volumes everywhere.
Virginia Crosbie went on to say: “It is up to each trader to choose the business model that best suits their needs but sailings from Ireland to Europe takes far longer than the short strait crossing to Holyhead and British “landbridge” route and we expect that these fluctuations in transport patterns will be short term whilst the new cross-border requirement changes settle in.
“I stay in regular contact with local businesses, operators and Stena and I will continue to work with them to support the local economy and growth in local jobs.”