How will the Port of Dover cope with Brexit?

Kerry-Ann Holleyman, January 25, 2019

Deal or no deal?

With the March deadline for the UK leaving the European Union looming, the government is now creating contingency plans in the event of a ‘no-deal Brexit’. A particular worry for Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is the traffic jams surrounding the Port of Dover, the UK’s closest port to Europe. An immediate departure from the single market and customs union will result in extra checks for freight vehicles before entering Calais, Coquelles and Dunkirk. 

Plan A

The present ‘frictionless trade’ between the UK and EU means that delays are rare. In spite of this, a plan known as the ‘Dover Tap’ is in place to support the area in the event of ‘mild disruption’. Lorry drivers are required to use the left-hand lane of the A20, sticking to a 40mph speed limit in order to maintain the traffic flow for regular commuters. 

What will change?

Around 10,000 lorries pass through Dover every day in a relatively quick and seamless process of passport and security checks. In the event that a deal is not reached, EU-bound lorries may need to complete lengthy custom declarations, as well as physical checks for goods such as food and chemicals adhering to single market rules. While it has been estimated that these checks will increase waiting time by only two minutes, this could result in traffic jams of up to 17 miles around the already congested area of Kent.

Plan B

In an attempt to overcome this, Kent County Council, alongside the Department for Transport have developed ‘Operation Brock’ – a plan to use a contraflow system to keep roads clear. A 13 mile stretch of one side of the M20 will be earmarked as a holding bay for around 2,000 lorries waiting to enter the port. A temporary solution initially, it is hoped that this will help to keep the traffic flowing on the other side of the carriageway, avoiding disruption for other drivers.

Will it work?

In January, a practice exercise was carried out to test Operation Brock. 89 lorry drivers were paid £550 to take part in two test runs of the route, running from Manston Airport near Ramsgate to the Port of Dover - to mixed reviews. The Department for Transport declared the test a success, with members of the convoy describing it as ‘smooth’ with ‘no problems whatsoever’. Others were not so enthusiastic, calling the exercise a ‘waste of time’ as a convoy of 89 heavy goods vehicles is not representative of the 10,000 lorries that could potentially be completing the same journey every day.

A valid test?

While the roads were described as flowing and clear, the Department for Transport failed to take into account that the test run was advertised to local residents in the weeks beforehand. Many avoided the roads in fear of being caught in traffic, again suggesting that the test is not a good indication of how operations will run after March.

The final verdict...

As Brexit Day approaches, everyone will be busy making plans for the changes due to come into force. While ministers, businessmen and academics are able to cast predictions as to what will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit, it is simply not possible to foresee how every circumstance will play out. 

Written by Kerry-Ann Holleyman - Team Assistant at Alchemy Recruitment Ltd.

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