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Trade: the UK landbridge

The UK landbridge refers to the route that connects the Republic of Ireland to the rest of the EU via mainland Britain’s road and ports network.

What is the UK landbridge?

The UK landbridge refers to the route that connects the Republic of Ireland to the rest of the EU via mainland Britain’s road and ports network – often from Dublin to Holyhead, then across the short Channel straits.

In 2018, the Irish Marine Development Office estimated that every year there are around 150,000 truck crossings between the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU across the UK landbridge, carrying trade with an estimated value of €18.2 billion.[1]

The landbridge is the quickest way to transport freight from Ireland to the European continent each year; it takes less than 20 hours, compared to the 40-hour roll-on roll-off sea route and the 60-hour load-on load-off sea route. For many perishable or time-sensitive goods, in particular agri-food goods, the landbridge is the most practical option.

Lorries using the landbridge sometimes pick up or drop off goods in Great Britain en route, a process known as ‘cabotage’.

Can firms still use the landbridge after Brexit?

At the end of the transition period, the UK left the customs union and single market, which means that customs and regulatory checks now apply at the Great Britain–EU border. This has increased the risk of delays and disruption, making the UK landbridge a less reliable route to the EU for Irish hauliers.

Under the terms of the UK–EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, Irish hauliers now have more limited cabotage rights in the UK than before Brexit, which may make it is less economical for them to use the UK landbridge.

The UK has signed up to the Common Transit Convention (CTC), which has helped preserve the UK landbridge, despite these changes.

The CTC is an international agreement which streamlines border formalities for goods that are transported through one or more countries en-route to their final destination. The convention means that full customs procedures are only required when goods reach that destination and not at every border they pass through. However, some paperwork – including a transit declaration and a financial guarantee – is required. Hauliers using the landbridge are eligible to use the CTC. While firms still face additional bureaucracy compared to when the UK was a member state, they are able to avoid full customs checks at the GB–EU border.

How will further changes to GB border rules affect the landbridge?

Additional paperwork will be required to use the the landbridge from the autumn, when the UK government introduces further border requirements on agri-food goods entering Great Britain. From 1 October, products of plant and animal origin must be accompanied by a health certificate, with a digital copy uploaded to the UK Import of Products, Animals, Food and Feed System (IPAFFS) before arrival. This requirement will also apply to agrifood goods transiting Great Britain via the landbridge.[2] From 1 January 2022, physical inspections will also take place on agrifood goods entering Great Britain, and are likely to affect goods being moved across the landbridge. The UK government is due to publish guidance on this issue in autumn 2021.[3] These additional requirements will increase costs and may make delays or disruption more likely for landbridge users.

How has Brexit changed the popularity of the landbridge?

Since the end of the transition period, it appears that the UK landbridge has become a less popular route for transporting goods from the Republic of Ireland and the European mainland. The number of lorries travelling between the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain fell by 30% in the first six months of 2021 compared to 2019 (when figures were not affected by Covid). In contrast, the Irish Maritime Development Office says that direct roll-on roll-off ferry traffic between the Republic of Ireland and the EU roughly doubled in the first six months of 2021, with many new ferry services launched to meet demand from hauliers keen to avoid the landbridge. However, a significant majority of Irish lorry traffic headed to the EU still uses the landbridge.[4]

Covid travel disruption has also played a role in affecting the volume of traffic using the landbridge and what ferry services are offered.

A reduction in Irish lorries using the landbridge could deliver benefits for the UK, by reducing emissions and congestion caused by Irish lorries using the UK road network, especially given Irish lorries are typically older and more polluting than those in the UK.[5]


  1. Irish Maritime Development Office, The Implications of Brexit on the Use of the Landbridge, 12 November 2018,
  2. Irish government, Exporting to the UK from Ireland, 19 February 2021,
  3. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,Transiting animals and animal products through Great Britain, 18 December 2020,
  4. Carswell S, ‘There is no room for error’: Six months after Brexit, companies are still adjusting, Irish Times, 3 July 2021,
  5. Bryson J, Ghaffarpasand O and Bloss W, Brexit: Ireland’s land bridge to the continent boosts air pollution in the UK, The Conversation, 17 September 2020,


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