Freight firms urged to keep preparing for no-deal Brexit

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) is urging logistics firms and cargo owners to continue preparing for a no-deal Brexit, despite the decision by European Union leaders this week to grant the UK a six-month ‘flextension’ to 31 October on its departure date from the EU.

Commenting on the latest UK-EU Brexit developments, FTA’s head of global and European policy Pauline Bastidon said: “FTA welcomes the fact that the potential ‘cliff edge’ of a no-deal departure from the EU has been postponed for now and is grateful for the extra preparation time the agreed extension offers to our members. 

“While the risk of ‘no deal’ has receded for now, it is an outcome which cannot be excluded further down the line - indeed, it remains the legal default, in the absence of alternative arrangements.  

“FTA is therefore calling on its members to use this extra time wisely. The association, which speaks for the logistics industry, will keep pushing for the best outcome for the sector, while continuing to support its members in their preparations and remaining vigilant should the situation change.”

As reported in Lloyd’s Loading List work began last night to remove the ‘Operation Brock’ contraflow system for UK international lorries on the M20 motorway in Kent, put in place to help manage the anticipated massive disruption to UK-EU international road freight transport in the event of a no-deal Brexit on 29 March.

Following the decision to grant the UK a six-month extension to 31 October on its departure date from the EU, UK road body Highways England confirmed that work began “to remove the contraflow on the London bound carriageway – part of what is known as Operation Brock – and is due to be completed in time for the Easter getaway next weekend”.

It said the decision was taken “in the light of the reduced threat of disruption to services across the English Channel in the coming weeks and has been endorsed by the Kent Resilience Forum.

However, Highways England said thesteel barrier on the London-bound carriageway will remain in case the system is required in the coming months, as part of `’new resilience measures for people living, working and travelling in the county”.

Highways England special operations director Duncan Smith insisted that the deployment of the contraflow on the M20 “has been a prudent measure reflecting the threat of potential disruption”. But he added: “Scaling it back now is a sensible response to the changing outlook, and restores capacity on the motorway in time for the Easter bank holiday weekend. We are grateful to drivers and residents in Kent for their patience while the contraflow is in place and for driving safely.

“A steel barrier which was installed on the London-bound carriageway to implement the contraflow between junction 8 and junction 9 will remain in place should Operation Brock be required again in the coming months.”

He said once the contraflow is deactivated, there will be three lanes running coastbound at national speed limit and two lanes running London-bound at 50mph (80kmh). That compares with speed limits of just 30mph since the system was activated in the last week of March in the lead-up to the UK’s initial planned departure date from the EU.

Highways England said overnight closures, starting last night, will be necessary to enable the deactivation work to take place safely. The contraflow on the London-bound carriageway will remain in place while traffic management is removed from the coastbound carriageway, it explained.

Highways England said Operation Brock “remains available for use as an alternative to the older Operation Stack, and offers significant improvements by keeping the M20 open to traffic in both directions”. It explained that Operation Brock is the name for a package of measures aimed at helping to improve the resilience of the roads in Kent to the effects of cross-channel disruption. As well as the M20 contraflow it also includes Manston Airfield and the M26.

The deactivation of Operation Brock comes amid reports that other UK government preparations for a no-deal Brexit are also being stepped down. 

In an email obtained by Sky News, the permanent secretary of a frontline Brexit department thanked staff for their work in preparing for a no-deal divorce from the EU, but added that “in common with the rest of government, we have stood down our no-deal operational planning with immediate effect”.

The letter said that on 11 April, at a meeting chaired by the cabinet secretary, it was “agreed that the objective is to ensure we wind down our no-deal planning in a careful, considered and orderly way”.

The news brought an angry reaction from those that favour a no-deal Brexit who wanted the government to use the Article 50 extension to October to step up no-deal preparations.