Brexit: Ministers accused of building 'pointless lorry park in Kent' after announcing £700m for trade checks

'This is all so pointless. We are creating a vast customs bureaucracy, with costs passed on to the consumer'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 12 July 2020 12:21
Comments
Government building 'lorry park in Kent' for post-Brexit checks says Rachel Reeves

Ministers have been accused of building a “pointless lorry park in Kent”, after announcing a whopping £700m for carrying out post-Brexit trade checks.

Michael Gove said it was not “the intention” for the new clearance centre – a 27-acre site secretly bought in Kent – to become a parking spot for trucks delayed at Dover and other ports.

Instead, he insisted the cash would “create the smart infrastructure that, in Kent and elsewhere, will allow the trade to flow”.

But Peter Ricketts, a former national security adviser, protested: “This is all so pointless. We are creating a vast customs bureaucracy, with costs passed on to the consumer.”

And Labour’s Rachel Reeves said, of Boris Johnson’s recent investment promises: “I thought that was going to mean hospitals, railways and new schools around the country – not investment in a new lorry park in Kent.”

The criticism came after plans were revealed for coping with the vast customs checks required when the UK leaves the EU single market and customs union on 1 January.

Work to fence off the vast site on the outskirts of Ashford, in Kent, will begin on Monday, with the local council given just hours' notice that the land was now in public ownership.

The move is part of more than £700m to be spent, with £470m going on infrastructure such as border control posts and £235m on computer systems and extra staff, including 500 extra Border Force personnel.

The checks will be necessary even if the UK avoids crashing out of the transition period without a deal, because even an agreement will prevent the free-flow of goods that takes place now.

When the 2016 referendum was held, Brexit campaigners repeatedly denied such checks would be required – but now describe them as inevitable, under the prime minister's clean-break exit deal.

There are widespread fears in Kent that this will trigger massive congestion and huge tailbacks on the county’s motorways.

Ms Reeves raised fears of the business costs involved, saying: “We don’t want to see exports start at a lorry park in southern England.”

And Layla Moran, the Liberal democrat leadership contender, said: “This is an appalling waste of money at a time we should be focusing our resources on tackling this pandemic.”

Mr Gove admitted the new infrastructure would be required “with or without further agreement with the EU”, as the negotiations remain deadlocked.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme: “We are looking at how we can develop infrastructure which makes sure that we avoid what I think all of us want to see avoided, which is any sense of the routes being clogged.

“But it’s not the intention to create a massive concrete lorry park. It is the intention to provide the smart infrastructure which in Kent and elsewhere will allow trade to flow.”

The cabinet office minister also insisted the borders would be ready for 1 January, after a leaked letter from Liz Truss, the trade secretary, warned of smuggling a possible legal challenge.

“Yes, I’m absolutely certain that everything that we do is compliant with law,” Mr Gove said.

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