Real prospect of ports chaos in event of 'no-deal Brexit', claims influential committee of MPs

Major disruption at British ports is a 'real prospect' if the UK exits the EU without a deal, an influential committee of MPs has claimed.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said there is a “real risk” the Department for Transport will not be ready for a no-deal scenario, with time running out to fix it.

Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the cross-party group of MPs, said the risks are “severe” but plans to avoid disruption around major ports “are worryingly under-developed”.

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The committee accused officials at the department of having a “complacent” approach to preparations, and failing to communicate properly with businesses so they can get ready for such an outcome.

But the department strongly rejected the criticism as “not accurate” and said a recent watchdog’s report found it had “made a determined effort in its preparations and achieved a great deal”.

The PAC report said: “There is a real risk that the Department for Transport will not be ready in the event of the UK departing the EU without a negotiated deal, and this risk is increasing as time runs out to deliver what is needed.” It criticised plans for projects such as the 13-mile “lorry park” planned for the M20 to ease problems at ports on the South Coast.

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It said: “With only months to go, it is extremely worrying that we are seeing these same concerns again and again with little progress being made.

“Even if a deal is agreed, the department faces a challenging workload during the proposed transition period. We acknowledge the difficult situation for the department in having to prepare for all Brexit scenarios.”

Last month, The Yorkshire Post reported a claim that northern ports are “ready to take up the challenge” of ensuring goods can still flow in and out of the UK if Brexit results in severe delays for trade routes via the south coast.

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We disagree with the Committee’s conclusions which are not accurate and we are both disappointed and surprised that they have failed to reflect the evidence set out in the National Audit Office’s report, which found that the Department has made a determined effort in its preparations and achieved a great deal.”

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Separately, MPs were warneed yesterday that the NHS will need to start implementing some emergency preparations before Christmas if there is a no-deal Brexit, in order to be ready for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU in March.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said that some contingency plans would have to be enacted in December, with others needing to follow early in the new year.

His comments to the Health and Social Care Select Committee may place further pressure on MPs, who are due to vote on Theresa May’s Brexit plan on December 11 and would have to seek a fresh agreement if they rejected it.