A queue 7,000 lorries long could build up at Britain’s Channel ports in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to a leaked government assessment.
The official estimate of the delays to cross into the EU comes amid warnings from trade unions and business that ports would be plunged into “chaos and confusion” in the New Year unless customs systems and lorry parks are completed.
A confidential document by the Border and Protocol Delivery Group, seen by The Guardian newspaper, gaming a “reasonable worst case” scenario of 7,000 lorries queuing in Kent also predicts thousands of passengers could have to wait an additional two hours for Eurostar trains.
The 46-page report states an essential IT system used by hauliers will not be tested publicly until the end of November, one month before the UK’s transition phase with Brussels ends.
The Unite union warned on Monday that the short timescale could mean Britain’s ports would be plunged into “chaos and confusion” in the New Year. The union said lorry drivers feared the complex computer software to deal with customs would not be ready by December 31, adding most of the planned lorry parks were still to be built.
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said the borders report was a “scenario” and not a prediction.
The revelation came as Boris Johnson’s controversial plan to override key elements of the Brexit deal he signed with Brussels cleared its first Commons hurdle despite deep misgivings by some senior Tories.
The PM’s majority meant the UK internal market bill passed with a comfortable cushion of 77 votes on Monday night, by 340 to 263 votes.
Former cabinet ministers and attorney generals withheld support for a controversial bill which will break international law.
In total 30 Tory MPs abstained in a warning shot that they are part of a brewing rebellion that will attempt to amend the bill as it is scrutinised in the Commons.
The real showdown is now set to be next week’s vote on an amendment by Bob Neill, the Conservative chair of the justice select committee, to give the last say on breaking the EU Withdrawal Agreement to MPs.
Andrew Mitchell, a former Tory Cabinet minister, has said it would be “unacceptable” to breach international law with legislation to override the Brexit divorce deal.
He said: “The proposition that we should march through the Lobby as lawmakers and say that we are going to ignore and disavow a law that we have passed, to do with the rule of law, that is completely unacceptable.”