How a no-deal Brexit would cause chaos

With some delay, when Britain is set to leave the European Union, there is still uncertainty about whether a deal will be struck between the two side to ensure an orderly withdrawal, or whether a ‘no deal’ Brexit is in store. What is clear is that if Britain crashes out without an agreement with its EU partners, there will be chaos for travellers and transporters moving between the two sides.

It says much for the parlous state of Brexit negotiations that a proposal by the European Commission to allow trains to use the Channel Tunnel for three months if the UK leaves the EU without a deal was treated as a welcome safety net. The proposal is aimed at mitigating the “significant impact” that a no-deal Brexitwould have on rail transport and connectivity between the EU and the UK, the Commission said.

Of course, if the EU withdrawal agreement is accepted in a UK parliamentary vote before the exit date, nearly all of EU law would continue to apply to the UK during the transition period, including travel law and regulations, prior to the UK leaving in 2020.

Contingency plan

But if not and the UK leaves the EU in April, 2019 without a deal, there are already plans in motion to keep the skies open and people moving. This includes the Commission’s no-deal contingency action plan, published last December, with measures to temporarily ensure air services between the UK and EU.

In the meantime, British local councils are also drawing up contingency plans, as fears grow of huge traffic jams, especially around ports. UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has admitted it is “possible that there could be some freight traffic disruption in Kent in the event of a no-deal, if additional customs checks were introduced in Calais, Coquelles and Dunkirk, where freight services disembark.” That is an understatement.

Extra Check Times

Kent is home to the Port of Dover, which handles approximately 10,500 trucks a day, with the Channel Tunnel receiving a further 6,000 lorries daily. Most trucks roll on a ferry one end and roll off at the other in an easy, seamless and quick operation. But if there is no-deal, EU-bound lorries will also need to complete custom declarations. Furthermore, certain UK goods arriving into EU ports may also need physical checks under single market rules.

The Port of Dover has looked at the potential impact of more checks on lorries and – through independent modelling – estimates that two minutes of extra processing time for each lorry would lead to tailbacks of 30km. Researchers at Imperial College, London, go further: they estimated that extra check times could lead to tailbacks of up to 50km.

And UK government research show that trucks would face six-day queues to board ferries at Dover if new customs checks were to delay each vehicle by just 70 seconds – while extra processing time of 80 seconds per truck would lead to permanent gridlock, “which would mean the whole country is in a traffic jam,” one official said.

The worst-case Brexit scenario for aviation of widespread grounding of flights has been avoided thanks to contingency plans in both London and Brussels. And the Commission has agreed that UK nationals can travel in the bloc without a visa for 90 days, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit. But it is clear that even with these plans, a no-deal scenario would be very messy.