Brexit ends ‘landbridge’ route as Dublin Port records sharp fall in lorry freight

Port chief says there has been a ‘reset’ in trade between Ireland, Britain and EU

Brexit has spelled the end of the British "landbridge" transit route, Dublin Port chief executive Eamonn O'Reilly has said, as new figures show a dramatic fall in lorry traffic with British ports.

New border controls introduced at the start of last year following Britain's departure from the European Union have led to a sharp decline in the road freight traffic through Dublin Port as businesses turn to direct ferry routes with mainland Europe to avoid post-Brexit red tape.

Full-year figures on freight volumes through Dublin Port Company in 2021 reveal the impact of Brexit on the once-favoured “landbridge” route across Britain to and from mainland Europe.

The State’s busiest port recorded a 9 per cent drop in the number of roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) units – equivalent to 99,000 trailers – last year, while the number of lift-on, lift-off (lo-lo) units increased by 10.2 per cent – or 43,000 containers – as more traders sought to ship goods directly with Europe.


The bulk of the decline in lorry traffic was due to a 90,000 reduction in the number of driver-accompanied trailers passing through Dublin Port during the year as more traders chose to ship goods in and out of the State by container rather than driver-accompanied trailers.

Dublin and Holyhead

The decline in driver-accompanied trailers was primarily on the routes between Dublin and Holyhead, Liverpool and Heysham with volumes falling by 187,000 or 21 per cent to 703,000.

“The landbridge has gone. It hasn’t re-emerged. I thought it would but it hasn’t and there’s nothing to suggest it is going to re-emerge in my mind because the British have yet to introduce import controls. I don’t see the landbridge recovering,” said Mr O’Reilly.

The figures marked a "change in the fiscal structure of the market" and "a reset" in the distribution of trade between Ireland and Britain and between Ireland and mainland Europe with ports in Rosslare and Belfast seeing an increase in freight volumes, he said.

Overall freight volumes passing through Dublin Port fell by 5 per cent as freight unit volumes with Britain declined by 214,000, while volumes with mainland EU ports rose by 158,000.

The number of trailers and containers passing through the port fell by 56,000 or 3.8 per cent to 1.4 million units. British routes accounted for 52 per cent of 1.4 million unit loads in 2021, down from 64 per cent of the 1.5 million unit loads passing through the port the previous year.

Mr O'Reilly said that Dublin Port has lost Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland haulier traffic to Northern ports driven by "looser border controls than they face in Dublin".

The introduction of Britain’s post-Brexit border checks has been delayed while the EU and UK attempt to resolve differences over the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the trading rules covering goods moving from Britain to the North following the UK’s exit from the EU.

Mr O’Reilly said he was “reasonably optimistic” that the introduction of post-Brexit border controls on the British side later this year will not have a huge impact on Dublin Port, but that he did not expect to see an increase in exports to Britain through the port as a result.

Freight volumes for the fourth quarter of last year were down 10 per cent on the same quarter the previous year due to a surge in volumes of goods moving through Dublin Port in the final months of 2020 as “people rushed to get stuff onto the ships before Brexit,” he said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times