UK ports could face six months of delays after no-deal Brexit
More than recommended six weeks of medicines should be stockpiled – health minister
Cargo trucks wait to embark ferries in front of the white cliffs at the Port of Dover. Photograph: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Britain’s major Channel ports could face up to six months of delays and disruption after a no-deal Brexit, the British government warned on Friday. New assessments of the impact of leaving without a deal found that delays at Dover and Folkestone could last much longer than previously predicted.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has told healthcare providers to prepare for a worst-case scenario by stockpiling more than the six-week supply of medicines previously recommended.
“In areas where we cannot tolerate significant risk to the flow of goods, such as with medicines and medical products, we need to have contingency plans in place for this worst-case planning assumption,” he said.
“This means that whilst the six-week stockpiling activities remain a critical part of our contingency plans, this now needs to be supplemented with additional actions.”
Britain fears that, if it leaves the EU without a deal, France and other EU countries will impose additional checks on goods crossing the Channel, leading to long delays for trucks carrying supplies. Mr Hancock said the National Health Service should prepare to use alternative routes, including the use of aircraft to fly in supplies of essential medicines.
The warnings came as Theresa May struggled to win support for her Brexit deal ahead of a vote in the House of Commons scheduled for next Tuesday. A group of Conservative backbenchers supportive of the government have tabled an amendment that would require Mrs May to obtain “further assurance from the European Union that the Northern Ireland backstop would only be a temporary arrangement and that, in the event that it comes into force, both parties intend to agree a future relationship or alternative arrangements consistent with the Political Declaration one year after the end of the Implementation Period.”
Downing Street said on Friday that the prime minister is not seeking to reopen the withdrawal agreement, the legally binding text that includes the terms of the backstop. Despite pressure from cabinet colleagues to delay Tuesday’s vote, Mrs May continues to insist that it will go ahead as planned.
About 100 Conservative MPs have indicated that they will vote against the deal, which is also opposed by the DUP and all opposition parties. But the government is hoping that an amendment to the Brexit deal motion can be crafted to offer sufficient reassurance on the backstop to win over a majority of MPs.
If such an amendment is passed, the government could avoid a vote on the substantive motion on Tuesday, sparing the prime minister a crushing defeat that could doom her Brexit deal and her premiership. The EU will not offer any concession or clarification on the backstop ahead of Tuesday’s vote and next week’s European Council is unlikely to produce any new text.
Mrs May will address the 27 other EU leaders during the summit in Brussels next Thursday, after which they will discuss Brexit among themselves. If the House of Commons has not approved the Brexit deal, EU leaders are expected to authorise an escalation of planning for a no-deal Brexit.