One could be forgiven for checking the calendar when reading a headline like this just to make sure it isn’t April 1st. It isn’t. In a reversal of Britain’s two century ownership of Calais from 1347 onwards, a French company has its eyes set firmly on owning the port of Dover.
It is reported in the Daily Express that we, as in the government, are planning to sell off Dover, which is the largest port to remain in public hands, to the French. Of course the first thing that springs to mind is that we are somehow relinquishing the great white cliffs of Dover. Somehow I don’t think they will go quite that far.
Charles Elphicke, the prospective Conservative MP for Dover said “It’s clear Gordon Brown has no sense of the history of our nation or the pride of our town. ‘How dare he consider selling it all off to the French? Dover is the English border. The people of Dover have a clear message for him – hands off our port, hands off the English border.” Very emotive language. And Gwyn Prosser, the current Labour MP for Dover, said that jobs would be lost. I would have thought that he would have been happy about a massive cash injection for the area. But maybe political beliefs are more important.
The Port of Dover made a profit of just over £15 million in 2008. Its managers expect to see freight throughput double between now and 2040. They need some £400 million to invest for the future. But public borrowing constraints are preventing this. The Chief Executive, Bob Goldfield, said "We want to throw off the shackles."
So, like all the other major ports sold off under the Ports Act 1991, Dover will go the same way. But maybe to a foreign buyer as the company that owns Calais, Nord-Pas-De-Calais, has emerged as the leading bidder. First our energy in the form of EDF, now that great British icon, Dover.
The comments under the Express article are the usual depressing and alarmist drivel. They expect to see claims that the French now own the Channel and lurid predictions of them setting up Sangatte style asylum seeker camps in Dover and letting everyone across to live here.
Come on! It’s just a business deal people. If a French company come up with the strongest bid and bring in money to revitalise a part of Britain what’s the beef? There won’t be armed French customs officers patrolling along the white cliffs and outside Dover asking for your passport to get into the town. People who live in Dover won’t be forced to eat frogs’ legs and speak French.
The country went through all this in the 70s. But then it was a broke Britain being ‘sold off’ to oil-rich Arabs sheiks.
While we are in the grip of a nasty recession, let’s help ourselves to make money outside of banking and the ‘service industry’. If it takes some inward investment like this then let’s grab it while we can.