As my right hon. Friend knows, I have asked Highways England to progress plans to promote a lorry holding area through the normal planning process as a potential permanent solution to Operation Stack. Highways England intends to undertake an initial public consultation on this in the spring, which will consider the scope, scale and function of the lorry area. As he knows, I am frustrated that we have not been able to do this sooner, but the commitment to it is strong.
The Secretary of State is, I know, aware of the extreme urgency of finding a solution to this matter. Even if we assume a full implementation period after Brexit, we could be less than two years away from new customs arrangements at Dover, and problems there could be disastrous not just for roads across Kent, but for the national road haulage industry. Can he assure us that, by the time of Brexit, sufficient off-road parking spaces will be available to avoid a recurrence of Operation Stack?
There are two points that I should make. First, on the border, it is absolutely the intent of this Government to maintain a free-flowing border; that is of paramount importance. The other point, be absolutely clear, is that we will have a solution in place for next March which keeps the M20 flowing in both directions and provides a solution if there is congestion at the ports; and that we intend to move beyond that and deliver a long-term solution, which will not only deal with the issue of trouble at the ports, but provide some respite to Kent residents, who I know are fed up with having lorries simply parking on their local roads.
Eighty per cent. of the road freight to and from the UK goes through Dover. There is surely no realistic chance of all those lorries being checked from March next year. Is not the reality that, if we leave the EU without a deal, utter chaos on the road network within miles of Dover is completely unavoidable?
No, I do not think that at all. It is for this country to decide how we manage our borders and what checks we put in place. The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that there is a free-flowing border at Dover, and we will deliver that.
Is it the Department’s policy that a new fixed link across the channel would help to ease disruption?
We should have some big, bold visions for the future. That is the way that we plan properly in transport terms. Our big, bold visions for the country right now are HS2, the potential expansion of Heathrow airport, the lower Thames crossing, the trans-Pennine tunnel, the A303 dualling and the Stonehenge tunnel. This Government have and are delivering lots of big visions for Britain.
The chairman of Maritime UK has said that, if a deal is not reached on Brexit, lorry drivers could be stuck on the main roads to Dover for up to two days. Even if a deal is reached, with a hard border at vital ferry ports, the industry is warning that customs and port health checks will cause massive disruptions. What concrete assurances can the Secretary of State give us that that will not be the case?
As I have said before, I have regular dialogue with the haulage industry and the ports sector. I have been very clear to them, as I am being clear in this House today and as the Prime Minister has made clear, that we do not intend to impose a fixed border. We want a free-flowing border and that is what we will deliver.