As Chief Executive of Britain’s largest port operator and Chairman of the UK Major Ports Group, Cooper vowed the UK’s maritime industry was ready to support Britain’s transition and capitalise on the opportunities Brexit presents.
Affirming the importance of the sector – 95% of the UK’s trade in goods is carried by sea – Cooper told the audience of MPs that the country’s ports and maritime industry will play an increasingly key role in post-Brexit Britain.
He said: “What we must avoid is a timid response based on a perception that this is mostly about ‘damage limitation’. The Government must be bold, ambitious and visionary. It must look to the long term. It must focus on the opportunities as well as the challenges. ABP, together with the rest of the ports industry and wider maritime sector, will do everything in our power to support that.
“Brexit will bring new challenges, for sure. Investment decisions will be paused while people get their bearings and some may end up being cancelled. But Brexit will also bring new opportunities. And one major exporter has already urged us to ‘get on with it’ and begin pouring concrete to provide the facilities to handle their sky-rocketing exports, a challenge I know we will respond to positively.
“Of course ABP wants as good access as the UK can secure to the Single Market. But we also want to see a UK government seize the opportunity to close out free trade agreements with the rest of the world faster than could have been achieved within the confines of the EU.”
He also warned: “For the ports industry one of the immediate opportunities is to ensure that the UK is excluded from the damaging EU Port Services Regulation.
“The industry, unions and employers, has been united in its opposition since the Commission published its ill-conceived, one size fits all, proposals back in May 2013, the third time this unwanted draft legislation has been round the houses.
“We know what the Commission’s ultimate aim is because they have been kind enough to publish it and, in the UK, with its large number of relatively small, highly competitive ports, it will mean more aversion to risk and less investment. How this is in the UK’s interest has always been beyond my comprehension.
“Excluding the UK from the Regulation will be a key test of the Government’s success in the Brexit negotiations that lie ahead.”
On the positive future of the sector, Cooper added: “ABP alone handles some £150 billion worth of trade. That total includes £70 billion of exports, £40 billion of which passes through the Port of Southampton. This makes Southampton the number one port for exports in the UK. And the overwhelming majority of those exports go to markets outside the EU.
“Ports are the key link giving British exporters and manufacturers access to global markets. We have world class ports and infrastructure, world class maritime skills and services, world class maritime technology and innovation.
“After Brexit, our ports and maritime industries are more important than ever for the nation’s future success and prosperity.”