Police will patrol the Kent border to turn away lorries without an “access permit” in a bid to ease Brexit border chaos, it has been revealed.
Michael Gove said officers will use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras and “other means” to block drivers – in what will be seen as an “internal border” in the UK.
The move would try to ensure “constituents are not inconvenienced”, he told MPs, after warning of 7,000-long lorry queues and two-day delays to cross the Channel.
But Labour accused him of planning “to arrest British truckers”, while furious hauliers said they were being lined up to take the blame for the looming disruption.
Under questioning, Mr Gove twice refused to reveal how many of his promised 50,000 “customs agents” – to help businesses prepare for a mountain of new red tape – have been recruited.
And he declined to say whether a new IT system will be “operational in January”, with just 100 days until the end of the transition period.
The Cabinet Office minister was setting out a new “worst case scenario”, which acknowledges 70 per cent of trucks may not be ready for new checks to cross the Channel.
Damian Green, the former deputy prime minister and a Kent MP, warned the threat of 7,000-strong lorry queues would “send a chill” through local people.
In reply, Mr Gove said: “We want to make sure that people use a relatively simple process in order to get what will become known as a Kent Access Permit, which means that they can then proceed smoothly through Kent, because they do have the material required.
“If they don't have the material required, then it will be the case that through policing, ANPR cameras and other means, we’ll do our very best to ensure that his constituents are not inconvenienced.”
Rachel Reeves, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, attacked the announcement, saying: “It is incredible that ministers are only now admitting to their plans to arrest British truckers for entering Kent without new travel passports.
“With just over three months to go, how are businesses meant to prepare amid this Conservative carnival of incompetence?”
The Food and Drink Federation warned that 7,000-long lorry queues would mean fruit and vegetables “will not arrive fit for human consumption”.
And the haulage group Logistics UK also hit back at Mr Gove, saying it was his responsibility to give firms the “details of and access to” promised new IT systems.
“Logistics UK has long warned government of the potential for border delays after the UK leaves the EU, and while there is still time to put mitigations in place to avoid them, it will be a huge challenge for government and industry to achieve,” it said.
Asked, repeatedly, how many customs agents are in place, Mr Gove claimed: “I cannot precisely state at any given time in a dynamic market how many people are doing exactly what job.”
He added: “What I can state is that the £80m that we’ve made available has not yet been fully drawn down.
“But any company that is in this area will know that come 1 January there will be an increased opportunity for their work, so this is an opportunity to expand and the government stands ready to help that.”
Meanwhile, MPs have raised fears about the “safe operation of the Channel Tunnel” from January, accusing the government of failing to make preparations.
France and the UK were expected to negotiate changes needed because of Brexit – but ministers have yet to put forward a new safety framework, they say.
If a deal is not struck by the end of the transition period, in little more than three months’ time, the legal status of a treaty dating back to 1986 is uncertain.
This will raise “concerns about the safe operation of the tunnel after 31 December, given that most EU law will no longer apply in the UK”, the report by the Commons European Scrutiny Committee warned.
If there are disputes, “France will be able to take unilateral action to regain control of its section of the tunnel”, it suggested.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies