Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Dover, has done some great work in the past. He wrote an excellent short report for the CPS last July for example, that showed how under this Government the rich are being paid more benefits and the poor are paying more tax. That makes his proud tweet this morning, announcing that he was "Fighting Gordon Brown's plan to sell off the English Border at Dover to the French" and linking to a New of the World story quoting him, all the more frustrating.
Basically, the Port of Dover is currently what's known as a Trust Port. That means, to quote the Department for Transport
"Trust ports are independent statutory bodies, each governed by its own, unique, local legislation and controlled by an independent board. Their common feature is their unique status as trusts. There are no shareholders or owners."
The profitable port's board wants to bring in private capital so that it can finance an ambitious expansion, including doubling freight traffic by 2040. If they get ministerial approval, they'll start the process of selling the port.
There's nothing wrong with that at all. They need to get the timing and organisation of the process right so that they can find the right bidder, but we're not aware of any particular concerns on that front. Charlie Elphicke raised a different issue:
"In trying to sell off our port and the White Cliffs, 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. We stood proud in defending our nation in times past. We are the nation's front line. The people of Dover have a clear message for him - hands off our port, hands off the English border, hands off the White Cliffs. He can take a hike."
This is complete nonsense. It is possible that a French organisation will take part in the bidding. But that won't mean anything for our sovereignty or the White Cliffs.
Running a port is a business just like running a supermarket or a car park. We don't say that the Americans have their hands on our food because Wal-Mart own Asda or the Germans because they own Aldi. In the same way, we don't have our hands on Germans' phone calls since Vodafone bought Mannesmann. The Spanish don't have their hands on our borders because BAA Airports Ltd. is owned by the Spanish company Grupo Ferrovial and plenty of people and goods arrive in the country on a plane. This is just meaningless, protectionist rhetoric.
The fact that it is situated on the coast doesn't mean that we will in any way give up control of our border, which will still be regulated and controlled by the Government just as it is now. There are British people who own houses on the coast of France, that doesn't mean we have our hands on their border in any meaningful way. The White Cliffs of Dover will remain British and remain a source of pride for Dover and the country.
Many British ports already have foreign investors or owners. For example, Associated British Ports is a company which owns 21 ports around the country including Southampton. It is owned by
"a consortium of private equity investors, which is comprised of Borealis, GIC, Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners and Infracapital Partners." Goldman Sachs have their headquarters in Manhattan. British authorities regulate the ports to protect our national security and they have to compete and offer low rates to attract business, who cares what country their owners come from?