The seemingly never-ending debate about alternatives to Operation Stack has been brought into sharp focus by Brexit. It now looks as though the Government has successfully negotiated for a transition period, which means that new customs arrangements need to be in place by the end of 2020 rather than the end of next March, but even the later date is not far away.
The dangerous scenario is that Britain needs full customs checks for both exports and imports. The effect on the M20 would be clear. Outbound lorries at Dover would queue back up the motorway. For Eurotunnel it would be even more serious as the checks for incoming lorries as well as outgoing ones are done on this side of the Channel.
I hope and expect that all this will be avoided, but we need to prepare for the worst. So it is welcome that the Department of Transport is considering alternatives to closing the motorway, and that all those involved in Kent are being fully involved through the Strategic Freight Group, which I attended last week at County Hall in Maidstone.
The ideas of keeping a dual carriageway operating both ways, while strengthening the hard shoulder and using the extra lanes to store lorries between Junctions 8 and 9 of the M20, is a good one in principle. If I am sceptical, it is because I have seen many good ideas come and go on this issue without being implemented.
This is why I raised the subject recently in Parliament, and received a categorical assurance from the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling that new arrangements would be in place before next March, while work on a permanent solution is pursued. We should see the work to strengthen the hard shoulders start very soon, which will let us know that this project is actually going to happen.