Fears over the impact of a no-deal Brexit have been raised after it emerged Dover Council is considering converting a 13-mile stretch of the M20 into a giant lorry park to deal with backlogs.
A report by the council expresses concern over the levels of readiness for the potential situation and states “urgent clarity” is needed from the government.
An impact assessment, released under freedom of information, says that a “temporary solution” to deal with a no-deal Brexit of converting a 13-mile stretch of the M20 into a giant lorry park could last “many years”.
The document expressed concern at the slow pace of work on the scheme, named Operation Brock, and stated “there does not appear to be a Plan B”.
It adds: “A 13-mile stretch of the coast-bound section of the M20, between junction 8 near Maidstone and junction 9 near Ashford, will be earmarked to hold heavy goods vehicles, in what will effectively become a giant temporary lorry park holding around 2,000 lorries.
“It is likely that a permanent solution will not be in place for many years if enacted through current planning processes and procedures.
“It will also depend on the post-Brexit customs arrangements reached with the European Union. Therefore, the ‘temporary’ traffic-management system Operation Brock will be in force for some time.”
More than 10,000 freight vehicles pass through Dover on peak days as it handles one sixth of the UK’s total trade in goods with a value of £119bn per year, and 99% of the freight moved through the port is intra-EU.
The report said: “The freight vehicles currently only take seconds to clear the Port of Dover but if Brexit ends up creating regulatory and tariff barriers between the UK and the EU, it is predicted that there could be gridlock around the town and through to Maidstone and beyond.
“If increased waiting times persisted then perishable goods could be damaged and supply chains interrupted. There is also a potential impact on air quality of any increased traffic queues at border controls.
“Customs checks on imports from outside the common market can take between five minutes to 45 minutes per vehicle. Port officials have warned that increasing the average time it takes to clear customs by as little as two minutes could lead to 17-mile traffic jams.”
The council, which acts as the health authority responsible for food safety checks at Dover and the Channel Tunnel, also raised issues about its powers.
The document asked whether the government “fully understood” that the Port Health Authority “has powers to examine and detain food, but not to physically stop vehicles in the first place”.
It adds that officials are “in the large… blind as to what is entering the port”.
The layout of the port is open with no physical boundaries which means there is “nothing to stop vehicles leaving”, and the health authority has “inadequate facilities at the port to inspect food or appropriately store food”.
The document states: “We ask that the government fully engages with us to ensure that the food safety function is fully understood and any proposed controls are outlined… to ensure that they are relevant, workable and logistically feasible bearing in mind the current status.”
Labour MP Gareth Thomas MP, a champion of the campaign group Best for Britain, which is calling for a second referendum, said Kent was “preparing for Brexit chaos”. He said: “The government’s plan will create the world’s biggest carpark, bringing Kent and the rest of the UK to a standstill. “Food will rot on the motorway and jobs are at risk as manufacturing supply chains are muddled and slowed by Brexit. “I know this government is stuck, but that doesn’t mean the country wants to be jammed up in traffic for years. Brexit will leave this country stagnating in the slow lane.”