Brexit: Lorries to be stopped in Kent at 'new internal border'

23 September 2020, 16:53 | Updated: 23 September 2020, 23:19

Lorries at the entrance to the Port of Dover in March 2019
Lorries at the entrance to the Port of Dover in March 2019. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Truckers will need a "Kent Access Permit" to enter the rest of the UK - effectively creating an internal border - Michael Gove has confirmed.

Lorries will need the "passport" to enter the rest of the UK from the south-east county when the transition period ends after 31 December 2020, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster announced on Wednesday.

The Cabinet Office Minister said police officers and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras will enforce the permit - which could effectively create an internal border between Kent and the rest of Britain - marking the first time ministers have confirmed such a measure.

Its purpose will be to prevent traffic tailing back from the port of Dover crossing and would try to ensure “constituents are not inconvenienced”, the minister told MPs in the Commons.

The plan comes after a leaked letter revealed that Mr Gove warned of 7,000-truck-long queues in Kent from next January onwards if hauliers fail to prepare for customs changes.

Mr Gove - who is responsible for No Deal planning - also refused to confirm how many of the promised 50,000 customs agents have been recruited in order to help businesses prepare for any red tape.

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Former deputy prime minister and Kent MP Damian Green warned the threat of miles of lorry queues would “send a chill” through local people and asked for a guarantee the Smart Freight system would be ready in time.

The MP for Ashford said: "The prospect of 7,000 trucks queuing to cross the Channel will send a chill through my constituents because we know what effect that has on all the roads in Kent and it's disastrous."

Mr Gove replied: “That system has been developed, it's being shared with business and we want to make sure that people use a relatively simple process in order to get what will become known as a Kent Access Permit, which means that they can then proceed smoothly through Kent because they do have the material required.

“If they don't have the material required, then it will be the case that through policing, ANPR cameras and other means, we'll do our very best to ensure that his constituents are not inconvenienced.”

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Labour former minister Kevin Brennan also told the Commons: "7,000 HGVs parked end-to-end would stretch from this building to Dover. That's the scale of the problem the Secretary of State is setting out.

"Where are the 29 extra lorry parks going to be? His statement seems to be all about passing the blame on to business for the chaos being caused by his Government."

Mr Gove denied this was the case and highlighted sites in Kent and at other locations where money has been invested, also noting: "Should there be specific areas of traffic management in Kent that we need to deal with, steps have been taken with the Kent Resilience Forum to do just that."

The prospect of two-day-long queues of up to 7,000 trucks in Kent is considered a "worst-case scenario", Mr Gove warned in his letter to ministers.

The document, that was sent to logistics associations, warned that the changes could come whether a deal is agreed or not.

The transition period - which kept Britain aligned to the EU's single market and customs union rules in order to allow cargo to flow smoothly after the UK formally left the bloc in January - expires at the end of 2020 unless both sides agree to an extension, a prospect Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled out.

In a reasonable worst-case scenario, the Cabinet Office letter says between 30-50% of trucks crossing the Channel will not be ready for when the new regulations, whatever they may be, come into effect on 1 January 2021.

It states that a "lack of capacity to hold unready trucks at French ports" could reduce the flow of traffic across the strait to 60-80% of normal levels.

It also revealed that delays could last for at least three months as alternative routes are set up and while supply chains work out the new systems and requirements.

Sector chiefs have accused the government of failing to do sufficient work in recent weeks regarding the threat of post-Brexit border delays.

Logistics UK, formerly the Freight Transport Association, expressed anger last week after being told the government's Smart Freight system - designed to reduce the risk of cargo delays once Britain is outside of EU rules - would still be in testing mode in January when UK exports face new border regulations.

Some hauliers believe the government is blaming them for not being "fully ready" after the letter branded their failure to prepare “the biggest potential cause of disruption”.

SNP Cabinet Office spokesman Pete Wishart also condemned Mr Gove's plan while speaking in the Commons.

He told MPs: "Today's the day where all the Brexit chickens come home to roost, only, of course, they won't because they'll be sitting in a 7,000-strong lorry queue in a Kent motorway for two days waiting to be dispatched.

"I remember the days of the 'easiest deal in history', 'having our cake and eating it' while observing the sunny uplands. But even the Duchy (Michael Gove) himself told us that we hold all the cards.

"Well, it seems the only card we hold at the moment is the joker with his Spitting Image mush all over the front of it."

Mr Gove responded: "Can I say thank you to (Mr Wishart) for referring to the fact that Spitting Image have fashioned a rubber puppet in my likeness? It's one of the greatest honours that has ever been paid to me and I hope that other members of the House will enjoy that recognition in due course."

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