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Transport / Diverting freight vessel to ship goods into Scotland post-Brexit a ‘last resort’

Transport Scotland says there is ‘no threat’ to the Northern Isles service after a no deal Brexit

NorthLink freight boat Hildasay.
NorthLink freight boat Hildasay.

DIVERTING one of the Northern Isles freight ferries to transport critical goods into Scotland if there are shortages in the event of a no deal Brexit is an option being considered by the Scottish Government.

A spokesperson for government agency Transport Scotland, however, said this would be as a “very last resort and only if all other measures have failed” – and only in a no deal scenario.

They added that there would be “no threat” to the Northern Isles ferry route despite a report in the national media last week saying that transport networks across Scotland are at risk of “grinding to a halt” following a no deal Brexit.

The mention of diverting one of the two Northern Isles freight vessels was included in documents released by the Scottish Government earlier this month on its preparations for a possible no deal Brexit.

It said: “As a last resort for importing critical supplies in the event UK measures fail, Transport Scotland has developed plans for the emergency diversion of a Northern Isles freight vessel on a limited basis, whilst minimising any disruption to routes and communities impacted.”

The Transport Scotland spokesperson reiterated that this move is something that the government could “consider” – rather than it being something that is likely to happen.

More locally, Shetland Islands Council said it has been in discussions with Transport Scotland since the no deal preparations were published.

A spokesperson said the local authority is keen to understand at what point that decision might be triggered.

Councillor Ryan Thomson, who chairs the council’s environment and transport committee, said: “We have very limited knowledge on what the outcome will be so we must prepare for every eventual outcome and protect services for the people of Shetland.

“The SIC is preparing as best we can for Brexit, whatever the outcome.”

The Northern Isles are currently served by two freight vessels, the MV Helliar and MV Hildasay.

Serco NorthLink runs the service on behalf of the Scottish Government, although the government bought the two vessels earlier this year after previously chartering them.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson – who does not want any more delays when it comes to Brexit – agreed a new deal with the EU last week, but it has yet to be ratified by MPs in Westminster.

Following a vote by MPs on Saturday, Johnson – by law – had to write a letter to the EU asking for an extension on the 31 October deadline, but he did not sign it.

Scottish cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity Michael Matheson said that while a no deal exit would be “disastrous”, Johnson’s deal would “also be terrible for Scotland”.

“Exiting the EU was not Scotland’s choice and we have been clear that any related costs must be covered by the UK Government,” he added.

“The costs of Brexit are expected to far exceed the consequentials we have received so far from the UK Government and we should not have to cut spending on public services to fund Brexit.

“Transport Scotland is contributing to overall Scottish Government ‘no deal’ planning and doing what we can to mitigate the worst impacts.”