Loads Of Trucks Are Taking Part In A Massive Pretend Traffic Jam Because Of Brexit

    The British government is approaching potentially the biggest crisis in living memory in the most British way possible: by practising queuing.

    Good morning from pre-Brexit Britain, a totally normal country where dozens of lorries are practising being in the kind of gargantuan traffic jam that could happen regularly if we crash out of the EU with no deal.

    Glyn Kirk / AFP / Getty Images

    Lorries stand parked at Manston Airport near Ramsgate, southeast England, as they wait to take part in a trial to tackle post-Brexit traffic queues on Jan. 7, 2019.

    Around 80 lorries assembled at 7am on Monday morning at a disused airport in Kent, in a government-run simulation — named Operation Brock — of what might happen if frictionless trade with the EU stops when we finally leave on March 29.

    Glyn Kirk / AFP / Getty Images

    Here is one truck driver enjoying being part of the action-packed exercise.

    Sitting on a runway this morning with around 100 other lorries... Feet up drinking coffee... #manston

    The lorries set off, in their fake traffic jam, for the port of Dover before turning around and driving straight back to the airfield, just to underline the normalness of the situation.

    Gareth Fuller / PA Wire/PA Images

    At no point did the lorries get on ferries and travel to the EU, one of the key differences between this trial and a real-life scenario.

    Also this is a small fraction of 12,000 or so lorries that travel to or from the continent every day, many of which do so at the rush-hour peak.

    Hang on...WTF is going on here?

    Glyn Kirk / AFP / Getty Images

    The haulage industry, port staff, and MPs from all parties are worried that if the UK leaves the single market and the customs union — which guarantees frictionless trade between EU states and minimal checks and delays — there could be chaos on roads.

    Dover handles one-sixth of the UK's international trade at peak times, equivalent to £119 billion a year, and just a few minutes' extra delay could cause lengthy backlogs.

    About 99% of trade that goes through Dover is from the EU, meaning vehicles can normally be processed in seconds, but Dover council has warned it can take up to 45 minutes to check goods from non-member states.

    The government, while clinging to the vanishingly unlikely scenario that parliament will pass Theresa May's draft withdrawal agreement, has said it has to consider and prepare for every eventuality, including no deal.

    The Department for Transport, which cooked up this scheme, parked the lorries in a closed-off southbound lane of the A256. The trucks reportedly arrived at Dover in one hour — after a journey that normally takes 30 minutes.

    Lorries now taking up one lane on A256 on way to Dover . This is a fraction of what no deal traffic will look like. 79 lorries out of 6,000 that will be held in Manston Airport in event of no deal

    And, of course, the lorries were late in setting off.

    Analysis shows that just a ten minute delay for lorries at the port of Dover will decimate British manufacturing in every corner of the country. These lorries, which are here for no reason, and are not being checked for anything, are now ten minutes late in setting off.

    In perhaps a sign of things to come, the lorries' departure was marred by a row between stewards over where exactly the trucks were supposed to go.

    Glyn Kirk / AFP / Getty Images

    Is there actually any point to all this?

    Steve Parsons / PA Wire/PA Images

    Maybe not? Charlie Elphicke, the Tory MP for Dover, said: "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.

    "Sending lorries around Kent on a wild goose chase all the way to Manston in the extreme northeast corner, and then sending them to the Port of Dover by a small A road is not the right answer."

    All of this matters very much to Kent, because port-bound traffic can potentially shut down the M20 motorway, which happened in 2015.

    The Department for Transport had hoped there would be closer to 150 lorries on the day, but according to the Daily Mirror, only 89 turned up, including a bin lorry from Thanet. The paper also reported that each lorry driver was paid £550, meaning the whole exercise cost well in excess of £50,000 once other costs are taken into account.

    Perhaps the real aim of the spectacle is to focus the minds of MPs wavering on whether to support May's deal.

    One person’s “large-scale rehearsal for a No Deal Brexit traffic backlog in Kent” is another person’s “stage a spectacle to scare MPs into supporting your Brexit Deal as the Parliamentary debate on it begins”. Personally, I am another person on this one. https://t.co/c6pPL2PIR6

    In any case, two and a half years since the referendum and with just 81 days to go until the UK automatically leaves the EU with or without a deal, the real fun may only just be starting.

    Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Patrick Smith at patrick.smith@buzzfeed.com.

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