Charlie Elphicke is MP for Dover and Deal.
What are the chances the UK will leave the EU without agreeing a deal? After the turmoil of the last few days, there has to be a much greater prospect. We now have less than four months to go – we know what needs to be done, and today’s Cabinet meeting should now get on and do it. It’s time to plan, not panic.
Indeed, the full mobilisation of action plans should have been ordered weeks ago. If it had been, Government departments would by now actively be taking all necessary measures. Businesses would be engaged in making full scale preparations for every eventuality. Yet even now as the clock counts down to Brexit Day, it is not too late to act and ensure that Britain stands ready.
17.4 million people – including two thirds of my constituents in Dover and Deal – knew it would not be easy and that there would be challenges and risks of disruption. They knew that because, during the 2016 EU Referendum, it was pretty much all the Remain campaign talked about. We were warned of gridlock on the roads to the Channel Ports. We were told the Calais Jungle would be moved to Dover. We were even warned of a terrible economic calamity in which millions would lose their jobs and house prices would collapse. Despite all these dire warnings, the people voted to Leave.
Now, as we are about to depart the EU, we are once again warned that unless we make a deal – any deal – there will be gridlock at the Dover frontline with months of disruption threatened. Indeed, day by day the warnings have become ever more fearsome: we will run out of medicines, aeroplanes will not take off, our pets will be stuck forever in quarantine, our food will run out. We are even told even our water will be poisonous and undrinkable. With warnings like this, one is left wondering, how on earth did we ever manage these past thousand years?
Of course, everyone knows that leaving Europe will not be easy. It’s no secret – indeed we are told the Cabinet is now aware — that the Channel Ports account for around a third of the UK’s entire trade in goods. There are around 60 sailings to the port of Dover from Dunkirk and Calais every day. The cross-Channel trading route is a huge success story: more than £120 billion of trade moves through Dover’s docks every year and, when you add Eurotunnel into the mix, it’s even more.
Yet it is in everyone’s interests – France’s as well as ours – that traffic continues to flow. Particularly since they sell us £95 billion more goods than we sell to them, and the queues at Calais would be rather longer than those in Kent. Small wonder that Xavier Bertrand, the boss of the Calais region, says they have no intention of holding things up there. And what are the chances that Emmanuel Macron will play politics with jobs and livelihoods on both sides of the English Channel? Especially after he has just done that in France and emerged with riots and a political bloody nose. He is now more likely now to focus on French jobs and free-flowing trade than the plaudits of Brussels.
Nevertheless, imagine that as much effort had been put into taking action as has been put into warning about the possible consequences of inaction. Without doubt, we would be in a much stronger position. Now, with the now very real risk that no agreement is concluded, it is in the national interest that we should spend the near four months from now until Brexit Day making sure we are fully ready for any challenge that may be thrown at us.
This is what we have been doing at the Dover front line – working hard on preparations for disruption. We are making sure that we stand ready. A plan has been put to the Department for Transport to ensure that the town of Dover is free of gridlock and that both of Kent’s motorways can be kept open and free-flowing. Strategies for lorry parking on and off road have been developed. We have also worked hard to secure extra funds for the police to be able to devote what resources may be required to ensure everything works as smoothly as possible in the event of difficulties.
It’s also important to remember that if we leave without agreement, we should have £39 Billion to assist us. For it appears that there is no legal duty to pay this money to the EU in the absence of an agreement. £39 Billion will go a long way to smooth the path of any challenges we may meet. The work at Dover points the way for action that is necessary across the whole waterfront of government to ensure our nation is fully prepared. That is why we must ensure policy responses and urgent preparations are made up and down the land.
The country stood ready in 2016 to make the call for our nation’s independent future. It is now time for our Government to match the political courage of the British people. We must concentrate all our energies to deliver for the people – to plan, not to panic. That way we can ensure that in just over 90 days we will be Ready on Day One, whatever the future may bring.