UK carries out ‘waste of time’ tests to see if trucks will overload roads after a no-deal Brexit
- Officials say 87 lorries are driving from a disused airport in Kent to one of Britain’s busiest ports to see whether the current systems can handle it
- But drivers involved in the emergency traffic system rehearsal complained that it was ‘not what it will be like’ and ‘80 trucks isn’t testing the system’
Britain began rehearsals on Monday for the upheaval of a no-deal Brexit by lining up dozens of trucks at a little-used airport for a trip towards the UK’s most important trading gateway to continental Europe. But some of the lorry drivers complained the exercise was “a waste of time”.
With the British parliament deadlocked, the ultimate destination of the Brexit project is unclear, with possible outcomes ranging from a disorderly departure with no deal to another referendum on European Union membership.
Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to force her Brexit deal through parliament but if it is rejected then business chiefs and investors fear the world’s fifth-largest economy will leave without a deal on March 29.
“It’s still hard to see any upside to Brexit,” said Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which said new car sales in 2018 fell at their fastest rate since the global financial crisis a decade ago. “Everyone recognises that Brexit is an existential threat to the UK automotive industry and we hope a practical solution will prevail.”
He called for lawmakers to back May’s deal to guarantee a transition period.
Parliament votes around January 15.
The EU has signalled it may try to allay the fears of May’s critics but will not renegotiate the deal.
May’s government has repeatedly warned that a no deal will lead to severe economic disruption, and on Monday the transport ministry was planning to test the road network to Dover, Europe’s busiest ferry port.
At Manston airport in Kent, which could be used as an area for parking if there is gridlock at Dover’s port, 87 trucks were lined up, the Department for Transport said.
From there they were then directed en masse to Dover, Britain’s biggest roll-on-roll-off port that handles with about 10,000 trucks a day.
After the first dry run drivers said it was good the government were doing something but the exercise was so small it was pointless.
“It’s a waste of time. They should have done it in rush-hour. You can see the traffic here is just average. This is not what it will be like in no-deal,” said Adam Carter, a driver with IntLogistics.
It took about an hour for trucks to drive the 53km (33 miles) to Dover and it appeared to go smoothly with no queues evident anywhere en route.
“To be honest, it was a waste of time. At least they have done something and it worked, but 80 trucks from our point of view isn’t testing the system,” said David Martin, who is also a driver with IntLogistics.
He said the government’s contingency plan for drivers would create huge expense for drivers in petrol and other costs, particularly those who would be forced to go to Manston even if their final transit point was the Eurotunnel, several miles up the coast from Dover.
In an attempt to prevent Britain leaving the EU without a deal, more than 200 lawmakers have signed a letter to May urging her to rule out a no deal.
Brexit supporters say there may be some short-term disruption, but in the long-term the UK will thrive outside what they cast as a doomed and excessively bureaucratic project dominated by Germany.
Boris Johnson, who helped lead the Brexit campaign, said voters would not be scared into backing a poor deal.
“There has been for far too long a confected hysteria about no deal and a determination to make it taboo,” Johnson said. “The public seem to think that in so far as there may be short-term challenges, they are worth meeting now, in order to gain the benefits of Brexit, in free trade and self-government.”
Additional reporting by The Guardian