Published: 11:33, 18 August 2019
| Updated: 11:46, 18 August 2019
A leaked government report has warned Kent will face months of congestion and disruption with significant queues at ports and lorries delayed for as long as two and a half days.
The report, published by The Sunday Times, sets out the government's no-deal contingency plans. Codenamed Operation Yellowhammer, it paints a bleak picture of extensive disruption and carries a warning that the public and businesses are unprepared for a no-deal Brexit.
On the possibility of delays at the Channel ports, the report warns that between 50% and 85% of HGVs May not be ready for French customs and the flow of freight could be reduced by as much as 60% within one day.
That would result in “ significant queues” in Kent with lorries facing a maximum delay under a reasonable case scenario of two and a half days before being able to cross the border.
It states the worst disruption to channel crossings might last three months before thingsstart to improve.
There would also be an impact on holidaymakers, with long queues and delays at EU Airports,St Pancras Railway Station, Eurotunnel and Dover.
On the possibility of a shortage of medicines it says that unless action is taken to improve the flow rate of lorries through the ports, the supply of medicines and drugs would be “vulnerable to severe extended delays”with three quarters of medicines coming into the UK via the main Channel ports.
A no-deal Brexit would also put social care providers under increased pressure,with rising costs adversely impacting “ smaller providers... within two to three months and larger providers four to six months after exit.”
The report warns the readiness of business and the public for thenew departure date is worse than it was for the original Brexit date at the end of March.
“The absence of a clear decision on the form of the EU Exit does not provide a concrete situation for third parties to prepare for.”
Antony Hook, a South East Liberal Democrat MEP and County councillor, said: “This report is a klaxon call to stop Brexit. Whatever legitimacy the 2016 referendum might have once had has now completely gone. As a Kent county councillor I know the pressure our fragile social care system is under. Kent relies on the very care providers this report warns may fail and exit the market within six months.”
He added: “If vulnerable people can’t get care at home they will go to hospital. Our hospitals are already stretched to breaking point and with the Brexit disruption expected to last well into 2020, this will coincide with the flu season, when our hospitals are under the most pressure.”
Meanwhile, Kent tourism chiefs have renewed their appeal for special support to help the sector to deal with the impact of a no-deal Brexit.
Deirdre Wells, chief executive of Visit Kent, said: “Whilst every effort is being made to minimise any traffic disruption, it is clear that the economic uncertainty and negative perceptions are already having an impact on the visitor economy in Kent. International visits this summer are down, and domestic visits are also suffering a decline.”
Visit Kent says a substantial tourism business resilience fund is needed to counter the threat of a decline in tourists coming to the county.
It has written to the minister in charge Michael Gove urging him to endorse and support initiatives that would boost the tourism sector.
These include a “rail-first” campaign to encourage visitors to switch to rail and minimise the impact on the roads, as well as a major Welcome to Kent campaign to attract more tourists.
Kent's tourist economy is estimated to be worth £3.8bn, with 65 million visitors a year and 77,000 jobs in the sector.
On a recent fact-finding visit to Dover,the cabinet minister Michael Gove insisted the government was prepared for the event of a no-deal Brexit.
He said: “The work being carried out at our ports is a great example of the vital preparations that are being carried out across the UK as we prepare to take back control and seize the opportunities of Brexit.”