A practice run for a no deal Brexit traffic jam turned into a farce today as just 89 lorries were used to simulate thousands being delayed by potential chaos at Dover.
Manston airfield near Ramsgate in Kent is being tried out as a mass HGV holding bay to ease congestion on roads to Channel ports.
Just 89 lorries took part in a practice run during morning rush hour – fewer than the 150 lorries promised when the test was announced on Friday and a fraction of the 4,000 which could use the site in a no deal emergency.
Each driver was paid £550 for their time – making the cost of today’s test at least £48,950.
The exercise was ridiculed today as a ‘taxpayer funded farce’ by critics who said it was ‘plain stupid’ to manufacture a traffic jam to appear ready for no deal.
Haulage experts said the test was ‘too little too late’ and warned 89 lorries was nowhere near enough to simulate the impact of thousands.
Theresa May’s official spokesman insisted the Government was ‘satisfied’ with the number of lorries which took part and said the test provided a ‘suitable sample’.
The test at the disused airfield comes as no-deal preparations are ramped up amid bitter deadlock over Brexit in Parliament.
The idea behind the runs at 8am and 11am was to ‘establish the safest optimum release rate of HGVs’ from the airfield to Dover along the A256.
The chances of the UK crashing out have risen dramatically as the PM faces the prospect of disastrous defeat in a vote on January 15 on the deal she has thrashed out with the EU.
A practice run for a no deal Brexit traffic jam turned into a farce today as just 89 lorries were used to simulate thousands being delayed by potential chaos at Dover (pictured are some of the lorries at the Dover port today)
Manston airfield near Ramsgate in Kent is being tried out as a mass HGV holding bay to ease congestion on roads to Channel ports. The trucks were sent down the A259 today (pictured)
Some 89 lorries took part in a practice run during morning rush hour and again at 11am to ‘establish the safest optimum release rate of HGVs’ from the airfield to Dover along the A256
Under no deal plans, lorries would first be parked on the M20 to Ashford before being diverted to Manston Airfield (pictured)
Each driver was paid £550 for their time – making the cost of today’s test at least £48,950
If needed in a no deal scenario up to 4,000 lorries could be parked up on Manston Airfield which has already had parking bays painted on the tarmac (pictured)
The idea behind the runs at 8am and 11am was to ‘establish the safest optimum release rate of HGVs’ from the airfield to Dover along the A256 (pictured is one of the trucks leaving on the second run today)
Hundreds of MPs – including more than 20 Tories have signed a letter urging Theresa May to rule out a no-deal Brexit if her package is defeated.
What are the no deal Brexit plans which have been enacted?
Here are the emergency no deal plans which have been activated:
Some 3,500 troops are on standby for no deal Brexit
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the troops could be used by any department as needed – but that no specific requests had yet been made for them.
Ministers will book space on ferries to ensure critical supplies, such as medicines, can get in if there are long queues at the borders
Families are to to be given advice on how to prepare for a no deal Brexit
Up to 10,000 lorries could be parked in Kent if no deal causes delays at the ports
The Kent authorities have warned that the gridlock could mean pupils miss school and exams, while bodies could pile up
But Eurosceptics including Boris Johnson are demanding that the PM pushes on to take the UK out of the bloc even if there is no agreement in place.
Mr Johnson used his Daily Telegraph column to dismiss ‘downright apocalyptic’ messages about a Brexit on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, arguing that people could ‘sort fact for nonsense’.
Nearly 100 lorries arrived at Manston Airport near Ramsgate in Kent early on Monday morning to line up along the runway before driving along the A256 towards Dover.
The trial, called Operation Brock, is testing out the site as a mass HGV holding bay to ease congestion on roads to Channel ports.
Road signs were erected on Sunday night directing drivers to the test. Lorries from regional and national haulage companies – with Eddie Stobart leading the pack – started to arrive at the airfield from around 7am on Monday to form a queue along the runway.
The drivers congregated in a large group before being directed by officials from the Department for Transport (DfT),
Kent County Council and police officers. The first practice run began in rush-hour shortly after 8am, with four convoys leaving at intervals between 8.13am and 8.39am.
Liberal Democrat Layla Moran, a supporter of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain campaign, said: ‘This is a taxpayer funded farce.
Liberal Democrat Layla Moran ridiculed the exercise today as a ‘taxpayer funded farce’ by critics today who said it was ‘plain stupid’ to manufacture a traffic jam to appear ready for no deal
‘No deal doesn’t need to be a real prospect but the government are just throwing money down the drain for effect.
‘Chris Grayling and his department have spent tens of thousands to create the spectacle of vehicles in a traffic jam to get into a disused airport , who then wait on the site for the green light to then create a traffic jam by snaking their way, interested in convoy, to Dover.
‘The idea that creating a fake traffic jam will show the EU we are ready for no deal is just plain stupid.
‘On days like this you have to think the UK has made a wrong turn somewhere.’
Former Labour Transport Minister John Spellar told the Standard: ‘This is another farce.
‘Chris Grayling has given a shipping contract to a company that has no ships – and now he’s held a lorry test without trucks.
‘He is starting the year with the same incompetence as he ended 2018.’
The lorries – led by an Eddie Stobart-branded truck – formed up on Manston Airfield before dawn to take part in two practice runs
The government has paid lorry firms to take part in the trial run of using the airfield today
The test at the disused airfield comes as no-deal preparations are ramped up amid bitter deadlock over Brexit in Parliament
After an initial run down to Dover at rush hour the convoy of lorries returned to Manston (pictured) for a second run late morning
Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett said: ‘Of course it’s good to have a plan in place but today’s limited scope trial will need to be repeated to stress-test other aspects of the management of thousands of lorries properly.
‘Today’s trial cannot possibly duplicate the reality of 4,000 trucks that would be held at Manston airport in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
‘It’s too little too late – this process should have started nine months ago. At this late stage it looks like window dressing.’
A DfT spokeswoman said: ‘We do not want or expect a no-deal scenario and continue to work hard to deliver a deal with the EU.
‘However, it is the duty of a responsible Government to continue to prepare for all eventualities and contingencies, including a possible no deal.
‘We will be testing part of Operation Brock to ensure that, if it needs to be implemented, the system is fully functional.’
Congestion at the Channel ports caused by the reintroduction of customs checks on goods has been one of the most commonly cited negative effects of a no-deal withdrawal from the EU at the end of March.
Also known as Kent International Airport, the site closed in 2014 after owners could not find a buyer.
Truck drivers and security staff were gathered on the run way at dawn today (pictured) as the test of Operation Brock began
The lorries were sent off of Manston Airfield in convoy to simulate how a backlog of trucks might head to Dover amid delays to Channel crossings
Lorries were seen queued up at the airfield, which could be used as a holding point if there is a disorderly exit from the EU
In other developments today, former Conservative Party chairman Lord (Chris) Patten told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Mrs May’s ‘rather miserable but gallant deal’ should be ‘put out of its misery as soon as possible’.
He denounced the attempt to persuade MPs that the PM’s deal was the only way to avoid a no-deal Brexit as a ‘Doctor Strangelove argument’.
‘I think it’s pretty irresponsible to think that you can get a bad deal through by that sort of threat,’ said Lord Patten.
‘There used to be the Doctor Strangelove argument that sometimes you could threaten people with doing crazy things in order to get them to back down. That’s really what’s being suggested at the moment.
‘I don’t think Mrs May actually thinks that it makes any sort of sense whatsoever to go ahead without a deal.’
Lord Patten said that the House of Commons must reject as ‘snake oil’ the option of a ‘managed no-deal’ plan and instead vote to extend or revoke Article 50 to allow more time to work out a ‘sensible’ future relationship with the EU.
‘If we can’t do that by getting a majority for staying within the single market and customs union, then I think we have no alternative but to go back to the people for another vote,’ he said.
He added: ‘I don’t like referendums, but we got into this miserable shambles because of a referendum, and it may be the only way we can get out of it.’
From border chaos to drug shortages: The doomsday warnings about a no-deal Brexit
THE M20 TURNING INTO A ‘GIANT LORRY PARK’
One of the most vivid warnings about no-deal is that a 13-mile stretch of the M20 could become a giant lorry park for years.
Some 10,000 freight vehicles pass through Dover daily, and the port handles one-sixth of the UK’s total trade in goods.
But imposing checks on them could cause massive tailbacks on both sides of the Channel, and spark shortages.
Britons could also need insurance for Channel Tunnel disruption if there is no-deal Brexit, the government warned today.
Guidance on rail says the government is still struggling to agree ‘mutual recognition’ with the EU to avoid disruption to services such as the Eurostar should there be no deal by March.
Contingency plans have been put in place to fly in medical supplies as the NHS braces for six months of chaos if the UK crashes out of the EU.
Crucial supplies could also be diverted to ports away from the Channel, and some drugs may even be rationed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has revealed the NHS is laying out on huge numbers of refrigeration units to try and keep supplied usable.
BLACKOUTS IN NORTHERN IRELAND
Northern Ireland faces the threat of electricity blackouts if the UK crashes out of the European Union without a deal.
Negotiators are trying to secure an agreement with Brussels that the current single electricity market would remain intact even if exit talks collapse.
But if the pledge was not secured, customers on both sides of the border could be hit.
The single electricity market involves ‘significant’ flows of power between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Government technical papers said there was a ‘risk’ that the single electricity market ‘may not be able to continue’.
If that happens, the Northern Ireland Utility Regulator, an energy watchdog, will ‘take action to seek to ensure continued security of supply and market stability’, they warned.
Bank of England governor Mark Carney set out one of the most blood-curdling outcomes – while making clear it was a worst case.
He suggested the size of the economy could plunge by 8 per cent in less than a year – further and faster than the financial crisis of 2008.
At the same time, the unemployment rate would rise 7.5 per cent, meaning hundreds of thousands losing their jobs.
Inflation would surge 6.5 per cent, sending prices in the shops surging House prices could plunge 30 per cent, while commercial property prices are set to fall 48 per cent.
The pound would fall by 25 per cent to less than parity against both the US dollar and the euro.