Kent council leader warns no-deal Brexit would spread chaos across country
The leader of the Conservative-led Kent county council has urged MPs to think “long and hard” about voting against Theresa May’s Brexit deal, warning that no-deal gridlock in Dover would spread chaos around the country at a cost of almost £1.75bn a week to the economy.
After publishing stark no-deal contingency plans for the county on Thursday night, Paul Carter said Kent would need “boots on the ground” and government resources to ensure that the local and national economy kept moving.
He was speaking as the government’s border delivery group met key stakeholders regarding no-deal and Dover yesterday.
He revealed that the government still had not released sufficient detail of its own no-deal planning for Kent and called on it to act swiftly to help the council be prepared for the worst-case scenario. “The missing link is the government,” Carter said.
Kent ‘facing gridlocked and rubbish-strewn streets under no-deal Brexit’
According to the council’s updated contingency plan, released on Thursday night, a no-deal Brexit could lead to rubbish going uncollected, children being unable to take exams and council staff working from home for up to six months.
The plan also contains stark warnings that morgues would be unable to run properly, weddings would be cancelled and hospitals could be hit by staff shortages.
“I sincerely hope that we never have to implement any of our contingency plans and that the UK has a smooth exit from Europe. However, we don’t know whether or not that will be the case,” Carter said.
“Some people say this is a waste of money, but we must never forget the chaos that we had across half of this county in 2015. It lasted 10 days. Doctors couldn’t get to hospitals, nurses could get to work, weddings were cancelled, domiciliary care workers struggled to get to their clients.”
A traffic management scheme, Operation Stack, was put into place involving the closure of the M20, but the cost to the county was £1.5mn a day and £250mn to the national economy.
“If we do not get a deal, the chances of disruption are great and we should never forget that,” Carter said. “Think long and hard would be my advice to MPs voting next week. Let’s get the best deal through parliament. I think Theresa May’s deal is the best on offer. It may not be perfect but we need a vote for pragmatism. This gives us the time to negotiate some of the thorny issues and keeps a good working relationship with the EU that we need to ensure frictionless trade.”
Kent county council has been working for months with local and national agencies on emergency plans if the deal does not go through. “For the first time we have a plan that does not necessitate the M20 being closed, but the missing link is the government. We have got to have boots on the ground and the enforcement powers,” Carter said.
“There also needs to be a national communications plan with clear road signage and communication with hauliers and factories to keep trucks in depots before they are given the signal to make their journey south to Manston where they will be held until released and go on down the A256 to Dover.
“We also need the government to decide what the priority freight for the M20 is.”
He said neighbouring counties would also be hit, with Highways England and police resources expected to be relocated to Kent to keep the roads moving.
Under the contingency measures Kent has been discussing with the government, a national plan would be put in place to ensure lorries are kept in depots up and down the country until they get the call to move south to the disused Manston airport near Dover, where they would be placed in a holding pattern for “six or seven hours” before being released to Dover.
Carter said the airport would hold 6,000 to 7,000 lorries a day.
There are also plans for crossticketing between Eurotunnel and the ferry companies to guard against ticket queues. The prime minister’s official spokesman said members of the border delivery group would be addressing key stakeholders afternoon to talk about no-deal readiness.
He said the discussions would focus on “potential congestion around Dover and the best way of managing it”, adding: “The prime minister has been clear that nodeal is a scenario which we wish to avoid.”
Asked if the government would significantly ramp up no-deal planning if next week’s Commons vote was lost, he said: “There will be different decision points for different sectors,” adding that the process of contingency planning had been “gradual”.