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Brexit: Cross-Channel Transport

Volume 795: debated on Monday 21 January 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of post-Brexit cross-channel transport planning exercises.

My Lords, the Department for Transport is undertaking a comprehensive and wide-ranging programme of work to ensure that we are prepared for the UK leaving the European Union. We will continue to work closely with other departments across government and with stakeholders to ensure appropriate contingency plans are in place for post-Brexit cross-channel transport. Until an agreement is reached, the Government will continue to plan for all eventualities.

My Lords, 90% of UK trade is handled by our ports, so the Minister is right that Brexit planning is essential. But we had the farcical Manston exercise in which 89 lorry drivers pretended to be a Brexit convoy to Dover, where they take about 10,000 lorries a day; the Government have given a multimillion-pound ferry contract to a company with no ships, no staff, no premises and no port agreements; and the Road Haulage Association estimates that new documentation could take eight hours per truck. Do the Government have any further exercises like Manston planned, and how confident can the Minister be that those exercises help prepare for Brexit day? How confident is she that all these issues will be resolved by 29 March? Finally, is it not now essential that the Government rule out a no-deal Brexit?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right to point out the focus we need to put on the short straits, and that is what we are doing. As she pointed out, we carried out a live test at Manston on 7 January. Despite what noble Lords may have read in the papers, we can confirm that there were enough vehicles there to ensure the trial was successful, and it achieved its objectives. It was a useful exercise in helping us to understand the effect of potential traffic on that route and to ensure that both local traffic and freight can continue to flow. Of course, we will continue in our preparedness. Just last week, with 180 local attendees we carried out a tabletop exercise designed to explore some worst-case scenarios. If they are needed, all our arrangements for traffic management in Kent are fully functional.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be foolish indeed not to test and exercise a novel logistics system? Were sufficient vehicles available to test the flow rate through choke points in the new system?

I agree with my noble friend. It is essential that we continue this contingency planning. The key local stakeholders in that case, in particular Kent Police and Kent County Council—we are also working closely with the Kent Resilience Forum on this—obtained the test results they wanted and were satisfied with the outcome, with Kent County Council describing it as a really helpful exercise.

My Lords, Eurotunnel alleges that the Department for Transport’s agreements with the ferry companies compromise its contract with the Government. In reply to my Written Question, the Minister denied that but did not give any reason for that denial. What assessment have the Government undertaken of the impact on the Channel Tunnel of additional ferry services which, unlike existing ferry services, will be subsidised by the Government?

My Lords, as you would understand, we have received numerous representations about the contract—not surprisingly, given the urgency of the procurement. We consider the contracts to be entirely consistent with the Government’s agreement with Eurotunnel. The contract was awarded under the procedure provided for in Regulation 32 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, which implement the EU requirements. As the noble Baroness would expect, we are also working closely with Eurotunnel on plans for when we leave the European Union.

My Lords, will the Government subsidise the dredging of Ramsgate harbour? Also, to what extent are they relying on pre-lodged customs declarations to avoid delays at ro-ro ports?

My Lords, the department is in discussions with Thanet District Council and Seaborne Freight to agree funding on the arrangements for the infrastructure works at the port of Ramsgate. On the customs modelling, as the noble Lord would expect, we have modelled the customs arrangements extensively. Of course, in the event of no deal it is up to the European Union what will be imposed by EU member states on the EU side of the border, and we are working closely with the French authorities to ensure that any disruption is kept to a minimum.

My Lords, where will the tabletop exercise take place? Will the table be square or round? Are we accompanying it with a bathtub exercise to double up on Ramsgate?

My Lords, the tabletop exercise has already taken place; it took place on 10 January and had 180 local attendees, so I am not sure how large the table was. The important thing is that we are ensuring that we work with all stakeholders who will be affected by this. We have been clear that in the event of no deal there will be some disruption and that is why we are working closely with all stakeholders and, indeed, France to ensure that we minimise that disruption.

My Lords, has the Minister consulted the port of Ostend over this new ferry-less service from Ramsgate? Is she aware that the mayor of Ostend said last week that he would not accept a ferry under any circumstances due to the cost of security?

My Lords, the port of Ostend is an operational ro-ro port, but nevertheless improvements are naturally required in order to bring all the necessary facilities up to date for the reinstatement of the Ramsgate route. The Government have no plans to provide any funding to the port of Ostend: that is a commercial matter for the port and for Seaborne.

Is it not a fact that for our major hauliers in the west and east Midlands, who can either go south or north with their goods, not a single lorry leaves the depot until it is cleared by computer software? Once it is cleared they set off, so the scale of the problem is not as others would believe it might be.

My Lords, we have focused on the areas where we expect there could be the most disruption and our priority is to minimise disruption at Dover and on Eurotunnel. That is because those are unique: they have the largest volume of traffic on the short straits and have juxtaposed border controls. The turn-up-and-go system that my noble friend refers to at all other ports means that all vehicles must have pre-bought tickets, so we expect much less disruption there.