UK ports could face six months’ dis­rup­tion

Health minister says more than six weeks’ medicines should be stock­piled Tory back­benchers seek fur­ther as­sur­ance about du­ra­tion of back­stop

The Irish Times - - World News - DE­NIS STAUNTON Lon­don Ed­i­tor

Bri­tain’s ma­jor Chan­nel ports could face up to six months of delays and dis­rup­tion af­ter a no-deal Brexit, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment warned yesterday. New as­sess­ments of the im­pact of leav­ing with­out a deal found that delays at Dover and Folke­stone could last much longer than pre­dicted.

Health sec­re­tary Matt Han­cock has told health­care providers to pre­pare for a worst-case sce­nario by stock­pil­ing more than the six-week sup­ply of medicines pre­vi­ously rec­om­mended.

“In ar­eas where we can­not tol­er­ate sig­nif­i­cant risk to the flow of goods, such as with medicines and med­i­cal prod­ucts, we need to have con­tin­gency plans in place for this worst-case plan­ning as­sump­tion,” he said.

“This means that while the six-week stock­pil­ing ac­tiv­i­ties re­main a crit­i­cal part of our con­tin­gency plans, this now needs to be sup­ple­mented with ad­di­tional ac­tions.”

Bri­tain fears that, if it leaves the EU with­out a deal, France and other EU coun­tries will im­pose ad­di­tional checks on goods cross­ing the Chan­nel, lead­ing to long delays for trucks car­ry­ing sup­plies. Mr Han­cock said the Na­tional Health Ser­vice should pre­pare to use al­ter­na­tive routes, in­clud­ing the use of air­craft to fly in sup­plies of es­sen­tial medicines.

The warn­ings came as Theresa May strug­gled to win sup­port for her Brexit deal ahead of a vote in the House of Com­mons sched­uled for next Tues­day. A group of Con­ser­va­tive back­benchers sup­port­ive of the gov­ern­ment have tabled an amend­ment that would re­quire Mrs May to ob­tain “fur­ther as­sur­ance from the Euro­pean Union that the North­ern Ire­land back­stop would only be a tem­po­rary ar­range­ment and that, in the event that it comes into force, both par­ties in­tend to agree a fu­ture re­la­tion­ship or al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments consistent with the Po­lit­i­cal Dec­la­ra­tion one year af­ter the end of the Im­ple­men­ta­tion Pe­riod.”

Down­ing Street said yesterday that the prime minister is not seek­ing to re­open the with­drawal agree­ment, the legally bind­ing text that in­cludes the terms of the back­stop. De­spite pres­sure from cab­i­net col­leagues to de­lay Tues­day’s vote, Mrs May con­tin­ues to in­sist it will go ahead as planned.

Back­stop amend­ment

About 100 Con­ser­va­tive MPs have in­di­cated that they will vote against the deal, which is also op­posed by the DUP and all op­po­si­tion par­ties. But the gov­ern­ment is hop­ing that an amend­ment to the Brexit deal mo­tion can be crafted to of­fer suf­fi­cient re­as­sur­ance on the back­stop to win over a ma­jor­ity of MPs.

If such an amend­ment is passed, the gov­ern­ment could avoid a vote on the sub­stan­tive mo­tion on Tues­day, spar­ing the prime minister a crush­ing de­feat that could doom her Brexit deal and her premier­ship. The EU will not of­fer any con­ces­sion or clar­i­fi­ca­tion on the back­stop ahead of Tues­day’s vote and next week’s Euro­pean Coun­cil is un­likely to pro­duce any new text.

Mrs May will ad­dress the 27 other EU lead­ers dur­ing the sum­mit in Brus­sels next Thurs­day, af­ter which they will dis­cuss Brexit among them­selves. If the House of Com­mons has not ap­proved the Brexit deal, EU lead­ers are ex­pected to au­tho­rise an es­ca­la­tion of plan­ning for a no-deal Brexit.

Bri­tain fears that, if it leaves the EU with­out a deal, France and other EU coun­tries will im­pose ad­di­tional checks on goods cross­ing the Chan­nel

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