- The UK government is set to bring back a plan to turn a 15-mile of stretch of motorway in into a Brexit contraflow system.
- The plan, called Operation Brock, was shelved last year after Boris Johnson’s government struck a withdrawal deal with the European Union.
- It involves one side of motorway in the county of Kent being reserved for lorry drivers heading to ports.
- However, the government plans to resurrect the plan ahead of new border checks from next year.
- The UK government launched a new consultation on Project Brock this week.
- The UK’s biggest logistics group said its members were “dismayed” by the plans.
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Boris Johnson’s government is resurrecting a plan to turn a 15-mile stretch of motorway into a contraflow system to prepare for delays at Britain’s border with the European Union in early next year.
In the run-up to a potential no-deal Brexit last year, the government implemented Operation Brock — a system under which one side of motorway in the county of Kent was reserved for lorries heading to the EU through ports like Dover, while all other vehicles, travelling in both directions, used the other side of the motorway.
The plan was shelved after Prime Minister Johnson’s government struck a Brexit withdrawal deal with the EU, avoiding the immediate introduction of new checks on goods heading to and from the bloc and delays at Britain’s borders.
However, with the UK and EU struggling to make a breakthrough in negotiations over a new free trade deal, and new checks set to emerge even if a trade deal is agreed, the government is seeking to bring back Operation Brock in anticipation of disruption in January, Kent Online reports.
Prime Minister Johnson’s government launched a consultation on the plan on Monday with the intention of bringing the system back for the end of the year when the Brexit transition period expires.
As of January, the UK will no longer be in the EU’s single market and customs union, meaning lorry drivers transporting goods to and from the bloc will be required to fill in paperwork before they can cross the channel.
These new processes, which lorry drivers moving between the UK and EU currently don’t have to complete, are expected to create delays at Britain’s borders as lorry drivers adapt to the new rules and obligations.
A spokesperson for the UK’s Department for Transport insisted that any border disruption is “unlikely to extend much beyond the middle of 2021,” but stressed that the level of disruption would be determined by the compliance of lorry drivers with the new rules.
They said: “If there is significant congestion at the border following the end of the transition period, it is likely the situation will improve substantially over the first half of 2021.
“Any delays will be due in part to low levels of border readiness among traders and the haulage industry, leading to significant numbers of trucks being stopped by the French authorities.
“That experience should act as a meaningful incentive for those who were not border-ready to ensure they are ready next time. We therefore anticipate that significant levels of disruption to outbound traffic are unlikely to extend much beyond the middle of 2021.
“Given the potential need for a strong HGV traffic management system in Kent at the end of the transition period, it is essential to amend the legislation that underpins Operation Brock.”
Lorry drivers are ‘dismayed’ by the plans
Logistics UK, the industry group representing hauliers, reacted angrily to the suggestion that lorry drivers would be to blame for delays at Britain’s borders and queues on the motorway.
Chris Yarsley, Logistics UK’s policy manager for road haulage, said members were “dismayed that the onus for compliance will be placed on drivers themselves, leaving them personally liable for a fine if they do not comply with the new rules” and warned that proposals would “create an internal UK border.”
Under the government’s plans, lorry drivers will need to secure a permit by filling in a form before being allowed to enter Kent. Those who enter the county without a permit will be fined £300 and roadside cameras will be used to check them.
Yarsley said: “It is disappointing to see that the government is expecting significant friction at the border with the EU, after the logistics industry had been given previous reassurances that friction would be minimised.”
He called on Johnson’s UK government to guarantee that the systems being developed to ensure the free flow of lorries heading to and from the EU can continue will be ready by January 2021.
The Labour Party over the weekend wrote to the government demanding answers to several questions about the work being done to prepare Britain’s borders for the end of the Brexit transition period.
The UK government estimates that there will be over 400 million additional customs checks a year on goods going to and from the EU as of 2021. It is building up to 12 new customs clearance centres across the country to help handle these new checks, including a handful in Kent.
In a letter shared with Business Insider, Labour’s Rachel Reeves told the government that people in Kent feared the new infrastructure would lead to a spike in traffic and increased pollution in the area.
Naomi Smith, CEO of Best For Britain, the UK campaign for a comprehensive trade deal with the EU, told Business Insider: “The return to a system that local MP Damien Green has admitted will be a nuisance won’t endear the government to the people of Kent.
“But more broadly Operation Brock is an admission that the government expects major disruption at the borders.
“The government should be doing all it can in negotiations with the EU to prevent such disruption by securing a comprehensive deal. The offer of minimal border checks is there to take, but the UK government needs to compromise a bit for the sake of Kent and the UK more generally.”