A “reasonable worse case scenario” document published by Michael Gove warns of queues of 7,000 lorries in Kent if not enough businesses prepare for border checks and requirements following the end of the transition period on December 31.
And a Covid-19 winter spike could make the situation worse if it leads to “absenteeism among port or border staff” in Dover or Calais, or if social distancing measures create extra friction.
The document however notes that a surge in infections may also suppress demand for freight Channel crossings and “limit the extent of traffic disruption”.
Gove also confirmed controversial plans for a “Kent access permit” which lorry drivers will have to hold to get into the county – an attempt to reduce traffic that critics say amounts to a de facto border inside England.
He published the document while warning that not enough firms are prepared for the UK leaving the EU single market, which allows seamless trade with the continent, at the end of the year.
“Our survey evidence indicates while 78% of businesses have taken steps, just 24% believe they are fully ready,” he told the Commons.
“Indeed, 43% of businesses actually believe the transition period will be extended even though the deadline for any extension has now long passed and the date we leave the single market and customs union is fixed in law and supported across this House.”
The document’s worst case scenario estimates that 30-50% of lorries will not be ready for extra border checks and requirements, leading to a 60-80% reduction in the normal levels of Channel crossings.
“This could lead to maximum queues of ~7,000 port bound trucks in Kent and associated maximum delays of up to two days,” the document says.
The problems may start small in early January but there is an expectation of “sustained disruption to worsen over the first two weeks as freight...