According to a recent report a disorderly Brexit has been given the highest possible risk rating by Kent County Council. It is the biggest single risk currently being addressed by the Council. Disruption is expected to last for at least 6 months and probably more following a no deal Brexit, with ‘significant long-term detrimental impact for Kent residents’.
The recent doubling of Government funding with an extra £2.1 billion to “turbo-charge no deal preparations” may be welcome in some quarters. But it emphasises the enormity of the work needed in just a few weeks if the Government is to take Britain out of the EU by the end of October. Neither Government nor business are anywhere near ready for a no deal Brexit.
However, some of the new proposed measures could make the situation worse. The Government is recruiting a further 500 border force officers, in addition to the 500 recruited earlier this year. Many of these officers will be based in Kent. Does this mean that they plan to check a large proportion of vehicles coming into the UK? If so, the consequences will be felt across Kent.
Rob Bird, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group at County Hall explains:
‘Ferries on the Dover-Calais crossing are scheduled to make 5 round trips each day. With a 90 minute crossing time, that means they have just 50 minutes to unload and load all passengers and vehicles at Dover; the same applies at Calais. There is very little spare holding space for vehicles at Dover and also a limited number of berths. Thus, any hold-up in disembarking vehicles and getting them out of the port complex will significantly reduce the capacity of the ferry operations.
‘Similar constraints apply to the Channel Tunnel operations. Furthermore, we do not know what is proposed on the French side but additional border checks in Calais could clearly exacerbate the situation.
‘It has been estimated that a 2 minute delay at Dover could lead to 17 mile queues on Kent’s motorways. The reality could be much worse especially as capacity on the M20 will be reduced by Operation Brock between Maidstone and Ashford and with major roadworks already taking place elsewhere on the M20 till next year. Furthermore, as we have seen before, the Dover area can easily get overwhelmed by vehicles trying to get into the port. The consequences could be dire.’
The Government is also planning additional spending on Operation Brock, the contraflow on the M20 designed to provide a lorry park on the coastbound section between Maidstone and Ashford. The increased enforcement powers of Highways England traffic officers will be welcome. However, additional safety measures are urgently required in the narrow two-lane section.
Meanwhile, Government communication with the responsible local authorities and their French counterparts has been patchy at best. Kent County Council is still out of pocket for the investment it made last year in advance of Brexit and still doesn’t know how much Government funding it will receive for crucial ongoing Brexit related work.
Rob Bird commented:
“The huge amount of money being committed for no deal Brexit preparations shows just how dangerous this would be for the country, particularly for residents and businesses on the front line in Kent. Instead of ramping up the no deal rhetoric, the Government should get back to the negotiating table and find a way of getting us out of the mess which the Conservatives have created.”