Major disruption at UK ports 'real prospect' with no deal, says Commons report

Grey clouds over the white cliffs of Dover

Major disruption at British ports is a "real prospect" if the UK exits the EU without a deal, according to a report.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said there was a "real risk" the Department for Transport will not be ready for a no-deal scenario, with time running out to fix it.

Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the cross-party group of MPs, said the risks were "severe" but plans to avoid disruption around major ports "are worryingly under-developed".

The committee accused officials at the department of having a "complacent" approach to preparations, and failing to communicate properly with businesses so they can get ready for such an outcome.

The report said: "There is a real risk that the Department for Transport will not be ready in the event of the UK departing the EU without a negotiated deal, and this risk is increasing as time runs out to deliver what is needed."

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Criticising plans for projects such as the 13-mile "lorry park" planned for the M20 to ease problems at ports on the South Coast, it added: "The slow progress and poor communication around work to avoid this through schemes such as Project Brock concerns us.

"The lack of detailed information provided to businesses to help them prepare and the secrecy surrounding discussions through the use of non-disclosure agreements is hampering businesses' ability to plan.

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"With only months to go, it is extremely worrying that we are seeing these same concerns again and again with little progress being made.

"Even if a deal is agreed, the department faces a challenging workload during the proposed transition period.

"We acknowledge the difficult situation for the department in having to prepare for all Brexit scenarios.

"But it must be open about the challenges it faces and work with businesses and stakeholders to help them get ready for whatever the future brings."

Hillier added: "The secrecy around the department's preparations, and the shortcomings in assurance on its progress, are a potentially toxic combination.

"We accept the continued uncertainty over the final shape of Brexit adds to the complexity of the challenge. But the department's Brexit work is simply too important to get wrong.

"It must be more open about what needs to be achieved, and work with business and others to deliver it.

"We urge it to respond meaningfully to our concerns in the weeks ahead."

The report said the Department for Transport has "little, if any, contingency left to cope with slippage amongst the 28 internal projects it has under way".

It said there is also a danger the required legislation to cope with no deal will not be passed by the time the UK leaves the EU at the end of March.

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