Test exercises are underway to tackle border disruption and traffic chaos contingent on a no deal Brexit.
With over 10,000 lorries visiting the Channel ports everyday, a disruption to border controls due to a no deal Brexit would likely cause a backlog of traffic on UK highways and severe delays to shipments. Roads and access routes to the Port of Dover are particularly likely to feel the effects.
However, government plans are already underway to minimise disruption and prevent a standstill on the roads in and around Kent if a no deal Brexit were to occur. The strategy set to be deployed in this circumstance is otherwise known as ‘Operation Brock’.
What is Operation Brock?
With concerns that a no-deal Brexit could cause chaos on the M20 due to the implementation of more stringent border checks at the Port of Dover and in Europe, the government have strategized Operation Brock.
This devised system will see the main roads between London and Dover transformed into a four-lane contraflow system – recommissioning the hard shoulder as the fourth lane – so that there will be two coast-bound and two London-bound.
The coast-bound lanes of the M20 at junctions 8 and 9 will be reserved for HGV traffic, with the middle lane kept clear for emergency vehicles. Under this new system, any Dover-bound HGVs will be forced off the M20 at junction 7 and onto the A249, where they will be sent to Manston, a disused airbase, and be held there to ease congestion.
The proposed idea is to keep HGV traffic moving—albeit slowly—, unless held at Manston, and thus avoid a repeat of road closures from 2015’s Operation Stack.
Unlike Operation Stack, the new system has been designed to ensure that the M20 will remain open and traffic will continue to flow in both directions in the event of any cross-channel vehicle hold-ups, allowing the normal flow of traffic in Kent to continue.
Operation Brock preparation trials
In preparation of a no deal Brexit, the Government have put Operation Brock to the test to ensure the system is a fully functional and a viable option once the UK has left the EU.
On the 7th January 2019 a total of 89 HGV lorries took part in two test runs from the disused Manston Airport (intended to be put to use as a mass HGV holding bay), near Ramsgate in Kent, on a 20-mile route to the Port of Dover. The trials were organised alongside the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and the Freight Transport Association.
The drivers congregated at Manston before being directed by officials from the Department for Transport (DfT), Kent County Council and police officers along the A256 towards Dover.
The DfT deemed the trial a success claiming “they went well and the traffic ran smoothly”. The trials provided a great deal of useful information and allowed the Council and DfT to understand how quickly the HGVs can leave the airport and make it to each checkpoint along the route to the port.
Yet, others questioned the usefulness of the tests with Conservative MP for Dover, Charlie Elphicke, telling the BBC “We’ve got to remember 10,000 lorries visit the Channel ports every single day so a test with less than 100 is not even a drop in the ocean,”
All in all, Operation Brock has been designed to minimise Cross-channel hold-ups by keeping a continuous flow of traffic in both directions. Councillors confirm this new system would have occurred regardless of the referendum result, meaning Operation Brock is likely to improve contingency arrangements for a whole range of scenarios which could result in cross-Channel disruption, including bad weather and industrial action.