Clear Brexit worries at Zeebrugge

The port of Zeebrugge and several Flemish industry bodies have spoken of the need to make the port Brexit-proof by 29 March 2019, the date on which the United Kingdom quits the EU. They say that even in the best case scenario Zeebrugge and by extension Flanders will undergo the impact of Brexit.

The Flemish employers' organisation VOKA and the Association of businesses in the port of Zeebrugge say many questions remain unanswered. The impact of Brexit on Zeebrugge and the West Flemish economy, both heavily reliant on the UK, remain unclear. 46% of Zeebrugge traffic is linked to the UK. It provides 5,000 jobs and 500 million euros in added value.

Everybody is aware Brexit will mean more checks. Zeebrugge has the advantage that much of the traffic is unaccompanied and that unlike in Calais there are fewer drivers who need to pass through customs. Zeebrugge is eager to ensure a smooth flow of traffic despite the extra checks. Some 141 extra customs officers are being hired. The extra checks will require greater storage facilities at the port too.

Flemish trawler men also are concerned. In a hard Brexit Flemish trawler men will no longer be able to fish in UK waters that currently provide half of all Belgian catches. Local Euro MP Tom Vandenkendelaere urges Britain to “think long and hard” about leaving the customs union. In the event of a free trade agreement West Flemish business is asking the UK to take account of a close partner: "This isn't like an agreement with Canada or Korea. The situation is different because we are a close partner."