No-deal Brexit rehearsal in Kent ‘a waste of time’ | Politics

A live rehearsal of an emergency traffic system that will be put in place to prevent congestion in Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit has been described as “a waste of time” by drivers participating in the test in Kent on Monday.

The Road Haulage Association said the dry run of a contingency traffic plan for the port was “too little, too late”.

The location for the Department for Transport’s trial was a disused airport north of the Kent port that was once used to test the bouncing bombs employed in the Dambuster raids in the second world war.

Under contingency plans, Manston airport will be used as a parking facility for 6,000 lorries, but only 89 participated in the trial staged at 8am on Monday.

The drivers, paid £550 each by the government, started their journey at dawn at the airport, where they queued before being given the go-ahead to drive to a second holding area, a three-mile stretch of the A256, which had been coned-off to normal traffic.

Lorries leaving Manston airfield in Kent

Lorries leaving Manston airfield in Kent, which will be used as a parking facility for 6,000 vehicles. Photograph: Sean Smith/Guardian

From there they were directed en masse to Dover, Britain’s biggest roll-on-roll-off port that handles about 10,000 lorries a day.

After the first dry run drivers said while it was good the government was doing something the exercise was so small it was pointless.

“It’s a waste of time. They should have done it in rush-hour. You can see the traffic here is just average. This is not what it will be like in no-deal,” said Adam Carter, a driver with Int Logistics.

Kent no-deal Brexit test map

It took about an hour for lorries to make the 20-mile journey to Dover and it appeared to go smoothly with no queues evident en route.

“To be honest, it was a waste of time. At least they have done something and it worked, but 80 trucks from our point of view isn’t testing the system,” said David Martin, who is also a driver with Int Logistics.

He said the government’s contingency plan would create huge expense for drivers in petrol and other costs, particularly those who would be forced to go to Manston airport even if their final transit point was the Eurotunnel, several miles up the coast from Dover.

David Martin

David Martin: ‘To be honest, it was a waste of time.’ Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

“When you’re doing that extra 40 miles two or three times a week and at eight miles to the gallon, it all adds up,” added Martin, whose company transports frozen and chilled food including cheese and yoghurt from the continent to British supermarkets.

Brexiters in favour of no deal say there will be no checks at Dover if the UK crashes out of the EU, but French authorities have warned that 100% of food and livestock has to be checked at special border inspection posts.

The Calais politician Xavier Bertrand has said a two-minute delay would lead to a 27,000-strong queue on both sides of the channel.

And the Road Haulage Association has said the documentation required if the UK leaves the single market is so impractical it would take eight hours per truck to complete. The challenge facing the government and Kent county council was evident at dawn as an argument broke out between marshals about where the trucks were supposed to go.

The Department for Transport dry run at Manston airfield.

The Department for Transport dry run at Manston airfield. Photograph: Sean Smith/Guardian

The association described the test as “window dressing”, saying it could not possibly mimic the reality of 6,000 trucks that would be held at Manston airport in the event of no deal.

“This is designed to test what happens if there is no deal and Operation Brock is implemented,” said a spokesman referring to the codename for the Brexit traffic management plan.

Kent county council has warned a no-deal Brexit could cause major disruption across Kent, with gridlock on the roads around Dover.

Rod McKenzie, the managing director of policy for the Road Haulage Association, said the rehearsal was too limited in scope.

“Critics might call it window dressing,” he said. “With 89 trucks, in no way can it replicate a potential 6,000 trucks that might need to be held in or around Kent and Manston. This planning should have been done many months ago, and preferably on a bigger scale. It should have been continuous and stress-tested, I doubt many truck drivers will be impressed by this.

“What we need is a deal or at least a transition deal. Business is simply not ready for a cliff-edge Brexit,” he said.

Local driver Jim Andrews said it was a good idea to use the route from Manston airport but questioned the leadership of Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, on no-deal planning for Kent, which will bear the brunt of traffic disruption.

“I love my country, but we are a nation of lions led by donkeys. Nobody asks us, the people in Kent, the drivers, what we think,” said Andrews, a supporter of Brexit.

Jim Andrews (left) drives for the construction industry and Neil Wheeler is an NHS security worker.

Jim Andrews (left) drives for the construction industry and Neil Wheeler is an NHS security worker. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

Neil Wheeler, an NHS security official who was at a truckers’ stop along the route, said he was concerned about emergency services. “If you have gridlock and you have an accident on the road, I do not see how you will be able to get to hospital,” he said.

Staff at the nearby McDonalds said local drivers had steered clear of the area this morning. “Everyone knew this was happening, so stayed away. It’s been very quiet,” said one.

A DfT spokesman said it did not expect a no-deal scenario, but it was “the duty of a responsible government to continue to prepare for all eventualities and contingencies, including a possible no deal”.

He added that “any lessons learned from today and further mitigation measures will be considered carefully” to ensure the system was fully functional if needed.

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