P&O causes supply chain chaos across Britain, EU and Northern Ireland

Salad, fruit, cheese and wine could run out amid supply chain chaos after P&O Ferries – which handles 15% of UK freight – stopped ships while farmers warn breeding livestock could be slaughtered without a route across the Irish Sea

  • Farmers said lack of ships going between the UK and the EU could spell disaster
  • They said the boats were a ‘lifeline’ for countrymen, especially sheep stockmen
  • National Sheep Association admitted it was ‘seriously concerned’ by P&O move
  • The sackings may also hit poultry industry but experts said it was stable for now
  • Meanwhile there may be shortages of salads, fruit, cheese, wine and croissants

Thousands of sheep could have to be slaughtered if P&O do not restart their ferry services, farmers have warned.

Stockmen said the lack of ships going between Britain, the EU and Northern Ireland could spell disaster for the industry.

They said the boats – which handle 15 per cent of UK freight – were a ‘lifeline’ and estimated they have three months before animals will have to be slaughtered.

The National Sheep Association admitted it was ‘seriously concerned’ by P&O’s announcement yesterday, adding the movement of livestock could be impacted.

The move may also hit the poultry industry and comes on top of red tape issues, a worker shortage crisis and problems caused by the war in Ukraine.

Meanwhile there could be shortages of fresh food in the supermarkets such as salads and fruit from Spain as well as cheese, wine and croissants from France.

P&O sacked 800 workers on the spot yesterday as it looked to bring in cheaper workers to save cash after its finances took a battering during the pandemic.

But hundreds of protesters, made up of furious ex-workers, have taken to ports across the country and are leading calls to boycott the firm.

The government said ministers today asked the Insolvency Service to investigate whether the ferry service complied with notification requirements for its staff.

Lorry congestion at the port in Dover is pictured earlier today as the fallout from P&O erupted across the country

Edward Adamson, a sheep farmer from County Antrim in Northern Ireland, warned he may only have a few months before sheep will have to be slaughtered

Sacked P&O Ferries crew confront Tory MP as angry protests break out at ports

Dover Tory MP Natalie Elphicke left a port protest today after being barracked by union members angry over P&O Ferries’ ‘jobs massacre’ of 800 crew as it was revealed the Government knew about the plan the day before but ministers insist they were powerless to stop it.

Mrs Elphicke was at the event in ‘solidarity’ and even held a RMT Union placard but when she began speaking on TV about the sackings being ‘devastating’ for the Kent town activists started screaming ‘shame on you’, ‘you’re on their side’ and ‘you voted for fire and rehire’, forcing her to abandon her interview. 

One protester confronted her saying: ‘Tory anti-union laws allow bosses to get away with this’. The Tory MP replied: ‘Nonsense, it’s bad business behaviour’ before she walked off as others yelled in her face.

The picket then marched on the docks, where police are parked at the entrance to the freight terminal and three P&O ferries – Pride Of Canterbury, Pride of Kent and Spirit of Britain – all remain docked. There appeared to be agency staff already working on the ships with security guarding the gangplanks.

There were also protests in Hull, attended by Ed Miliband, as well as in Liverpool and Belfast.

Edward Adamson, a sheep farmer from County Antrim in Northern Ireland, warned he may only have a few months before his animals will have to be slaughtered.

The third generation farmer, who has around 1,000 ewes on over 400 acres, told MailOnline: ‘It’s hard enough with Brexit getting sheep to the UK mainland.

‘Obviously the ferries have to start again because the number of lorries full coming off them at the port is huge.

‘There is no route to the UK mainland for us otherwise. We produce more animals than we need you see and we can’t just keep them.

‘We just hope it doesn’t last long and will just have to hold on. We can last about three months but then we will have to trade within Northern Ireland and the rest will be slaughtered.

‘[The ferry] is a lifeline between Northern Ireland and the mainland. When it comes to food it’s much more important.’

The National Sheep Association also said it was ‘seriously concerned’ especially with the movement of sheep and goods between Britain and Northern Ireland.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker said: ‘NSA recognises that P&O supports many industries, and the public too, but for a long time, the company has been the mainstay of shipping live breeding sheep between Britain and Europe, and between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

‘Brexit brought new controls for moving live animals into Europe and the fact there is no Border Control Post (BCP) with live animal facilities on the other side of the channel means British breeders have not been able to sustain what was a long standing and important trade for valuable UK livestock genetics.

‘Negotiations are ongoing about establishing such a facility but today’s news from P&O is likely to create further uncertainty and delays.

‘The Northern Ireland protocols have allowed the continued movement of animals between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but have imposed serious extra controls resulting in many sheep farmers in Northern Ireland feeling ”cast adrift”.

‘It is not clear from the P&O statement what might happen immediately but this disruption will do nothing to allow farmers in Northern Ireland to integrate with the wider UK industry.

‘We await further details and hope that solutions can be found to prevent any immediate or short term disruption, and to provide confidence for plans for a live animal BCP to progress in time for this years breeding sales this summer.’

Lorry congestion at the port in Dover today. There has been uproar and condemnation from UK government ministers and trade unions following the sacking of hundreds of British P&O Ferries staff

What’s going on?

P&O Ferries has made 800 workers redundant and replaced them with cheaper agency staff.

Can it do that?

Unions have threatened legal action and lawyers suggested workers could bring unfair dismissal claims. Tom Long, partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, said the move ‘appears to contravene the requirements needed for a normal mass redundancy’.

Booked a ferry?

P&O Ferries was updating guidance over Twitter every half an hour yesterday. On some routes, including Dover to Calais, it advised customers to show up as usual and make their way to check-in booths run by ferry company DFDS. On others, such as between Larne and Cairnryan, the firm suggested customers only travel if essential.

Other options?

If you are travelling in the near future you can book on an alternative carrier. DFDS and Irish Ferries offer routes between Dover and Calais. There are no direct alternatives for the other routes but Stena Line offers services to Ireland and Holland.


The firm has not commented but its terms and conditions say it will refund the ‘total fare’ of a crossing if ‘we cannot ship you at all with us or arrange a suitable alternative ferry crossing, or if you do not wish to take any alternative journey offered by us’.

And P&O Cruises? 

P&O Cruises is owned by a different company and is not affected by the disruption.

Meanwhile chicken farmers were also alarmed but had alternative routes aside from P&O ferries to move their stock.

The British Poultry Council said P&the firm’s decision will force traders to spend more time filling out paperwork for Eurotunnel trips or other ferry operators.

Chief Executive Richard Griffiths said: ‘The Dover-Calais route is important to the sector for its time-efficiency, particularly to our primary breeding companies exporting breeding stock into Europe and just-in time fresh exports of poultry meat.

‘However there are other routes available into the EU – the Eurotunnel, plus other ferry operators operating from Dover or Harwich to the Netherlands.

‘It might take some additional planning for businesses, but these are suitable alternatives in the short-term.

‘This is a manageable issue right now, but one businesses could do without whilst they continue to mitigate issues arising from Brexit red tape, resource-intensive systems, an ongoing labour shortage and impact of the war in Ukraine.’

She added: ‘We do not see any impact on supply that could result in shortages in Britain.’

Experts are also worried if the ships remain in the dock for 10 days – as predicted – there could be shortages of fresh food in the supermarkets.

They said salads and fruit from Spain and cheese, wine and croissants from France could be hit.

Prices are certain to rise – with inflation already at record levels – while parts needed for British manufacturers could also be hit.

Director of Food and Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium Andrew Opie said: ‘Retailers are working with other ferry companies to ensure disruption to P&O ferry services do not interfere with the movement of fresh food between GB, NI and EU.

‘Nonetheless, a prolonged interruption to P&O services, who are an important part of UK supply chains, could eventually impact the flow of goods.

‘We urge the ferry company and union to find a speedy resolution to the current issues.’

The Road Haulage Association said: ‘The P&O situation is another headache for our hard pressed haulage industry – and our members are alarmed at reports that it will take a week to ten days to get back to normal operations.

‘The situation at Dover and other ports is challenging enough with the new post-Brexit paperwork without the loss of several ferries to transport goods.

‘We’re calling on the government to spell out a clear contingency plan to help the situation for crucial cross channel trade.’

Downing Street said ministers asked the Insolvency Service to investigate whether P&O complied with the notification requirements before making staff redundant.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said this morning: ‘There are rules around fire and rehire.

‘There are rules around notifying relevant government departments when you are making redundancies, and obviously there are the contracts that we have with the company.

‘We are looking at all of those issues before deciding what steps (to take). We will find out the facts and see if they have complied with the law.’

The spokesman said senior officials in the Department of Transport were informed by the P&O chief executive on Wednesday night of what the firm was planning.

They added: ‘As is standard practice, the information was on a restricted circulation due to its commercial sensitivity and the potential for insolvency if this leaked.’

Hull: Protesters outside the terminal today where yesterday a crew refused to leave their ship after being sacked

Merseyside: This is the picket Line for the sacked P&O staff at entrance to the Port of Liverpool

Hundreds of protesters took to ports across the country from Friday morning after 800 were sacked by P&O without warning.

In Dover, Britain’s busiest ferry port, about 150 protesters gathered and truck drivers honked their horns in support but services by other carriers were not disrupted.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT Union, said: ‘Yesterday’s events should also mark a sea change in how we treat workers in this country.’

The Trade Union Congress called for workers’ rights to be strengthened, including via a new law to end the so-called ‘fire and rehire’ practice which some firms use.

Meanwhile more than 200 protesters gathered outside the Port of Liverpool this afternoon.

Metro mayor of Liverpool Steve Rotheram, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson joined the demonstration.

Labour MP Mr Esterson said: ‘I think we’ve got amazing solidarity from trade unions across the north of England and local people.’

He added: ‘Like everyone, I’m outraged at the appalling abuse of ordinary people by DP World.’

Protesters held flags and signs, including one which said: ‘Shame on you!! P&O stop the carve up.’ Lorry drivers on their way to and from the port beeped their horns.

Belfast: Police guard the dock where P&O ships have been moored after the staff was sacked and replaced with agency workers

Dover: Police hold the protesters back as they approached the port this afternoon

Around 200 protesters also gathered outside the ferry terminal compound in Hull before marching on the site and banging on the doors of the terminal building.

The marchers, including a number of sacked workers, walked past the tied-up Pride of Hull ferry but got no response from anyone inside the P&O building.

Outside the gates, the rally was addressed by union officials as well as former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Labour’s Hull East MP Karl Turner.

P&O told passengers sailings will be suspended ‘for the next few days’ amid the fallout from the sackings.

The company operates four routes: Dover to Calais, Hull to Rotterdam, Liverpool to Dublin, and Cairnryan in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland.

It advised those already at Dover and Calais to make their way to the check-in booths for Danish firm DFDS.

But there were no such instructions for those at Hull, Rotterdam, Liverpool, Dublin, Cairnryan or Larne.

The firm insisted the decision to cut jobs was ‘very difficult but necessary’ as it was ‘not a viable business’ in its current state. 

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