Charlie Elphicke is the Conservative candidate for Dover and Deal.
In less than two years, we will leave the European Union. It is vital that we are ready on day one for every eventuality, particularly at the Dover frontline. People opposed to Brexit warn of a disaster at the border if a deal is not done. They claim there will be queues of lorries all the way back to Essex. Yet the truth is we can make a massive success of Brexit – deal or no deal. By taking action now with a queue-busting plan, we can ensure that we are ready.
Of course, we all hope for a deal. Yet it’s obvious we need to be fully prepared for none – especially given the behaviour of the Commission with its inflated demands and Jean-Claude Juncker who seems determined to derail progress at every turn. That’s why Theresa May is absolutely right to say that every vote for the Conservatives is a vote to strengthen her hand at the negotiating table.
Moreover, France’s new president may be a more positive force for Britain than people expect. With him there is the potential to forge a deeper relationship with France and reach an accommodation with Europe that will benefit both us and the EU. To strike a New Entente Cordiale. Five years ago, I sat opposite Emmanuelle Macron, who was the then economics adviser to President Hollande of France. I was leading a cross-party Parliamentary delegation to discuss the EU, and what kind of settlement Britain might negotiate.
We all thought he was incredibly young to be doing this critical job. Which is what they said when he later created his own party and ran for the presidency. Just as in his campaign, Macron impressed us all from the start. He clearly wanted to see France pass the structural reforms that we battled so hard for in the 1980s and now take for granted. He was pro-European, yet struck us as incredibly pragmatic as well. He was also a hard-headed negotiator from his days as a deal-maker in the City of London. If anyone can turn France around, he can. He may well come to see it is pragmatically in France’s interest for our two nations to enjoy closer ties as we leave the EU.
Yet we need to plan now to make sure trade continues to flow freely – whether there is a deal with the EU or not. Dover is the gateway and the guardian of the nation. The port handles £120 billion of imports and exports every year. More than 10,000 freight vehicles pass through the docks each day.
Gridlock at Dover would gridlock the UK economy too. We’ve seen in recent years how finely balanced the infrastructure is and how problems can swiftly spiral. Tailbacks in 2015 caused by Calais strikes were estimated to cost Britain’s economy £1 billion. In 2016, a lack of French border police at Dover caused huge tailbacks on the roads to the port.
That’s why I’ve worked with the ports, shipping and haulage industries to develop a detailed plan to ensure order at our border and that we are ready on day one when we leave. The plan, backed by Xavier Betrand, president of the Calais and Dunkirk region, sets out:
- Resilient roads to Dover and Deal. The dualling of the A2 all the way to Dover, recklessly axed by the last Labour government, must now be carried out. The planned M20 lorry park must be delivered on time.
- Britain open for business with systems ready on day one to ensure that customs controls are handled seamlessly and long queues avoided.
- A New Entente Cordiale to extend the Le Touquet Treaty to cover customs co-operation and ensure we work closer than ever with France.
- A Brexit Infrastructure Bill. It takes years to build the simplest road. Yet we have less than two years to get ready. A powerful new law to speed through administrative processes would enable vital projects to be delivered on time.
- One Government at the border to ensure order. There is a mind boggling array of ministries, quangos and agencies with border responsibilities. There should be a single ministry where the buck stops – not a pea soup of bureaucracy.
By taking action now we can make a real success of Brexit for Britain. A key part of that is to hold out the hand of friendship to France. For Dover and Calais have long had strong and positive relations. Just last summer, we worked closely with the French to dismantle the Calais Jungle migrant camp. That is why a New Entente Cordiale is something we should not be afraid to seek. Indeed, the new President of France may surprise by embracing. For he knows that good accounts don’t just make firm friends, they make nations richer and more successful too.
Yet all this will only be possible with the strong leadership the Conservatives offer. Everyone knows that Corbyn and Sturgeon would fold up swiftly in any negotiation. Indeed, they would seek to drag us back into Europe. Only the Conservatives will be resolute when it comes to discussions on money and trade. Theresa May is the only leader with the credibility to forge stronger bilateral links with national governments. And while Labour, Lib Dems and SNP are hoping for failure, only the Conservatives are working to make a success of Brexit, planning ahead to be ready on day one.