Tory councils ‘fear M20 could become a car park for years' under Government Brexit plans
Four lanes of the M20 could be used as a 13-mile long lorry park for up to four years after Brexit, documents drawn up by two Tory councils have revealed.
A set of impact reports - obtained by Sky News - show that Conservative-run Dover District and Kent County councils have a string of concerns about the Government’s plans for handling disruption at the border when the UK leaves the European Union.
Ministers’ proposals for accommodating extra traffic "in the event of serious disruption to cross-Channel transport" were first outlined in an innocuous-sounding ‘Road haulage update’ in May which did not explicitly mention Brexit.
But the report from Kent County Council claims that the so-called ‘Operation Brock’ plans in fact stand for "Brexit Operations Across Kent", and they warn that the Government’s permanent fix of setting up new lorry parks "will not be delivered until 2023 at the earliest".
In the meantime, four lanes of the M20 motorway are set to be converted into a 13-mile long lorry park for 2,000 vehicles in a bid to contain the extra traffic.
Kent Council has reportedly warned ministers that the slow pace of its long-term motorway fix "is not only frustrating but potentially damaging to the UK economy as well as disrupting the daily life of Kent residents and visitors”.
The council’s report says the Government's plans “do not appear to be far enough advanced to be ready in time for the UK's exit from the EU” and warn of "massive disruption to both strategic and local traffic" under the temporary solution.
The report from Dover Council, meanwhile, says that "there does not appear to be a plan B" and warns that the district’s crucial port has "inadequate facilities to inspect and store food" and "no facilities to park vehicles waiting for examination".
But a Government spokesperson said the UK would be seeking to "maintain frictionless trade in goods between the UK and EU".
“While we remain confident of reaching an agreement with the EU to achieve this, it is only sensible to prepare for a range of scenarios," they added.
"That is why the Department for Transport is working closely with a range of partners on contingency plans to ensure freight can continue to move as freely as possible between the UK and Europe.
"However, work on Project Brock would have taken place regardless of Brexit to improve contingency arrangements for a range of scenarios which could result in cross-Channel disruption, including bad weather and industrial action."
'SIMPLY AN OPERATIONAL NAME'
A Whitehall source meanwhile disputed the acronym, describing Project Brock as "simply an operational name" and adding: "It does not stand for anything, never mind an acronym related to Brexit".
The source said plans being drawn up by Highways England would also allow traffic to continue in both directions, and would help plan for "a variety of circumstances" beyond Brexit, including "bad weather and industrial action".
Seizing on the leaked reports, however, Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson Jenny Randerson said: "While the Tories are stuck in a civil war, their Brexit mess will leave the country stuck in traffic.
"No one voted for this. No one voted to make it harder for businesses to transport goods. That is why the people deserve to have the final say on the deal, and an opportunity to Exit from Brexit."
Ministers are aiming to avoid the need for permanent customs checks and controls on goods flowing between the UK and the EU under a “facilitated customs arrangement” plan set out in the Government’s Brexit White Paper earlier this month.
But the proposals have triggered a furious reaction - as well as Cabinet walkouts - from Brexiteers who fear the deal would leave the UK too closely tied to the EU's rules through a "common rulebook" on standards.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has also savaged the plan, warning last week: "The EU cannot and will not delegate the application of its customs policy and rules, VAT and duty collection to a non-member who would not be subject to the EU governance structures."