An attempt by the government to demonstrate that traffic from Britain’s ports would continue to flow in the event of a no-deal Brexit has been derided by politicians as farcical.
Operation Brock, which is the contingency plan to cope with congestion at ports in Kent in the event of a no-deal Brexit, involves using the former airfield at Manston Airport near Ramsgate as a giant lorry park to prevent traffic jams around channel ports.
Some 150 lorries were supposed to have taken part in a practice run of the plan on Monday, which saw the lorries gather at the airfield before making their way to Dover along a 20-mile route on the A256, before returning.
The plan was to get an idea of how much of an impact on journey times having more lorries on the road would make.
But just 89 lorries were involved, in an exercise branded a “farce”.
Even if all 150 lorries had taken part, the exercise would have borne little relation to reality, with more than 2.6m lorries going through Dover alone each year, which equates to more than 7,000 a day.
The journey normally takes around 30 minutes depending on traffic.
In the first test, at around 8am, four convoys left at intervals before a single stream of lorries drove away during the second test, at around 11am, so officials could test out different scenarios.
The first batch of lorries to leave took about 35 minutes to complete the trip. Traffic was light on the route and the lorries did not seem to cause any extra congestion.
The exercise was “too little too late” and could not “possibly duplicate” the anticipated reality, according to Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association.
He added: “This process should have started nine months ago. At this late stage it looks like window dressing.”
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran described the practice run as a “taxpayer-funded farce” and Labour MP Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, claimed it was “beyond parody”.
Companies such as Eddie Stobart, Ramsgate-based White's Transport Ltd, Salvatori Group from Canterbury and Swains in Rochester took part in the trial.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The trial has gone well, and will provide a strong sample to help us understand the effect of potential traffic on this route.”
A Downing Street official claimed the government was “satisfied” with the number of HGVs that took part.
But Charlie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, argued that Operation Brock is “too complex”, likely to cause “enormous confusion” and should be a last resort.
The criticism comes just days after a controversy erupted over a £13.8m no-deal Brexit contract awarded by DfT to a ferry company which has not yet run services and has been accused of basing some of its terms and conditions from those of a takeaway firm.
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