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Updated: Government unprepared and secretive over Brexit transport plans, say MPs

[ November 28, 2018   //   ]

A Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published today (28 November) has warned that there is “a real risk” of the UK’s transport system being unprepared for Brexit on 29 March and that the Department for Transport has been unnecessarily secretive in its planning

It says that risks are increasing “as time runs out to deliver what is needed.”

MPs on the committee acknowledged that the Department for Transport faced a difficult situation in having to prepare for all Brexit scenarios, but said it needed to be more open about the challenges and work with businesses and stakeholders to prepare. Much consultation with organisations has taken place under non-disclosure agreements, which had hampered the ability of business to prepare, the report said.

The PAC called for the use of non-disclosure agreements to be limited to commercially sensitive discussions and DfT needed urgently to step up its communications with businesses and other stakeholders on what they need to do to prepare. “The Department’s continuing caution in its public communication about EU Exit means the public and businesses cannot prepare adequately if there is no deal,” it said.

The report also added that, according to DfT “there is little, if any, contingency left to cope with slippage amongst the 28 internal projects it has underway.”

Preparations for disruption around major ports are “worryingly under-developed,  with plans to manage traffic and lorry-queuing at Dover through ‘Project Brock’ – the successor to Operation Stack – not even yet been desk-tested, it said. PAC has urged DfT to write to it before Christmas setting out any results, along with its wider plans to keep ports across the UK open for business.

There was also a danger that the required legislation will either not be passed in time or not  subjected to proper scrutiny in time for EU exit, it said.

The PAC was also sceptical that plans for on maritime databases, International Driving Permits (IDPs), the trailer registration scheme and road haulage permits were as advanced as the DfT had suggested in its replies to questions, which it said were short on detail, with a possible “heavy reliance on assurance from officials in its arms-length bodies, such as Highways England with regard to Project Brock”.

Affected groups such as those planning to drive in the EU after Brexit, should be made aware that action will be needed soon, “even if it is not yet clear what that action will be”. However, while the DfT had emphasised the role of third parties in disseminating information (for example, hire companies or Post Office staff issuing International Driving Permits), it has not provided detail on how it is co-ordinating this work.

Freight Transport Association head of European policy, Pauline Bastidon, commented: “We share some of the PAC’s concerns and have many questions, particularly in relation to traffic management in the event of No Deal and how Operation Brock would work in practice…However, the Committee has missed the biggest and most fundamental problem in our view in relation to transport and No Deal. Ultimately, the biggest issue for transport is the issue of market access: the ability for operators to transport goods across the borders. This is not an issue the UK can solve unilaterally. With just four months until the UK leaves the EU, the situation is alarming.

“No amount of contingency planning can increase the limited number of international haulage permits available to both UK and EU hauliers. In the event of a No Deal exit, the number of ECMT permits available would likely only cover 5% of the current vehicle journeys made between the UK and EU. And no air cargo can be transported until between the UK and the EU until the UK is added to the EU ‘Greenlist’ for cargo security. Solving these issues require a negotiated outcome that the UK alone cannot deliver – it needs the full support and active approval of both member states and the European Commission.”

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