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Manston Airport to be used for custom checks under no-deal Brexit plans

By Paul Francis

Customs officials are set to be deployed at the Manston airport site as part of the government’s no-deal Brexit contingency plans, it has emerged.

HMRC has confirmed it intends to use Manston to conduct customs checks on lorries diverted there in the event Operation Brock is triggered.

It says using Manston is part of wider plans to ease the pressure on the Channel ports.

Former Manston airport (15165230)
Former Manston airport (15165230)

In the case of a no-deal Brexit, HMRC has estimated that it will need to process a five-fold increase in customs declarations.

The need to carry out individual checks on HGVs has led to concerns about long tailbacks and potential gridlock.

In a statement, HMRC said:“The UK will be leaving the EU on October 31 whatever the circumstances and the Government has plans and contingencies in place for the UK border to continue to operate with the minimum of disruption.

"This includes introducing simplified UK customs procedures and opening a small number of additional locations, such as Manston Airport, to handle customs administration removing pressure on existing border infrastructure.”

There have been calls for inspections on lorries to be conducted before they even reach Kent.

Dover Eastern Docks. The port authority says the Brexit delays gives it more time to prepare (15165591)
Dover Eastern Docks. The port authority says the Brexit delays gives it more time to prepare (15165591)

Under Operation Brock, Manston has been earmarked as an emergency lorry park for potentially 6,000 to 8,000 HGVs.

It will come into play as a holding area for HGVs heading for the Port of Dover if capacity on the M20 coast-bound between Junction 8 at Maidstone and Junction 9 at Ashford is used up.

Dover Brexit Taskforce, a group consisting of council leaders, MPs and business representatives, registered its concern about the prospect of customs checks at Manston in March.

Minutes of a meeting seen by KentOnline record that HMRC “announced without any consultation” its plans “to set up an office of departure at Manston which will be in place regardless of whether Op Brock is in place.”

The taskforce - which is chaired by Dover MP Charlie Elphicke - also registered wider concerns about using the Manston site, saying there were “huge welfare issues” and Manston was “not just a matter of putting down concrete to hold the lorries.”

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay said that while not ideal, HMRC’s plans “made sense” given that lorries would already be on site.

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