As the Brexit debate reaches a climax I was one of a group of Kent MPs who visited the port authorities at Dover to receive a practical briefing on the implications of any disruption on the Dover- Calais crossing.
The figures are stark. At the ferry terminal alone there are 60 arrivals and departures a day. Twelve boats operate, and each one carries between 120 and 150 lorries. That’s about 10,000 trucks a day, with the peak flow of 500 trucks an hour.
You only have to stand in the control tower and see the inexorable flow of trucks through the port to realise how quickly the queues would develop if there were any disruption. While those 10,000 trucks are arriving there are only 250 spaces to hold trucks in the port itself, and another 500 in the Dover TAP system, which basically involves parking trucks on one lane of the A20. This system is already used about fifteen times a month.
French immigration controls are already situated at Dover, and on the occasions they check a large number of drivers (as they have done after terrorist incidents in France) the delays within hours mean the operation of the TAP system.
Whatever your view about Brexit it is sensible to worry about what would happen if the French, for example, starting having to check goods outbound from Dover. Much of the traffic is in fresh food, and if we have different health rules this would be subject to checks.
The worry in Dover is that if this happens either the ferries will be backed up unable to land, because the trucks will be delayed leaving Calais, or food will no longer be exported through Dover. Since the popularity of the route is based on the fact that logistics companies love the time saving involved over any other possible journey, this would be disastrous not only for Dover but for many exporting companies on which our prosperity depends.
I read that the Government is chartering boats to use other ports if necessary. I have met business people who are wondering if certain goods can be diverted from roll-on roll-off ferries to container ships. The truth is that neither of these solutions will be satisfactory, especially if they have be tried from next April. Dover carries 17% of UK trade for a reason—it is by far the most efficient and realistic route. It should not be jeopardised.