While attention has focused on likely queues at Dover and Folkestone, the port at Holyhead on Anglesey is the UK’s second largest roll-on/roll-off operation and, along with the smaller Fishguard and Pembroke docks, faces huge changes after the transition to Brexit, said the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee.
Although ministers have sought to ease pressure by deferring full paperwork for incoming freight until July, the committee voiced “deep concern” that no inland facilities have been prepared for the possible backlog of trucks waiting to be processed.
Queues are likely whether or not Boris Johnson secures a free trade agreement with the EU, because of the additional checks and form-filling required as a result of Brexit.
Meanwhile, peers have raised fears that truck drivers waiting to board ships at Dover will be left without access to toilets, food and water if they are unable to reach lorry parks as they queue on motorways in Kent.
In a letter to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, a House of Lords EU sub-committee said that the Department for Transport had informed it that a plan was in place for portable toilets to be brought to drivers on roads where long delays were occurring.
But in the letter, committee chair Baroness Verma said the plan was “logistically impossible”, adding: “We acknowledge that there are legitimate safety concerns around drivers getting out on a motorway, but with significant delays, this seems inevitable whether toilets are available or not. As we were told, this is an issue of basic human rights.
“This won’t be very pleasant for drivers who get stuck in long queues and anyone living near or visiting the areas where these drivers are stuck waiting to get across the Channel.”
The letter came as a Kent school announced it was delaying reopening after the Christmas holidays amid fears that traffic jams will prevent teachers and pupils getting to lessons on time.
Lady Verma said that when queues reached a peak of 7,000 trucks during the implementation of Operation Stack 2015, it took 36 hours for traffic to be processed and temporary facilities for food, water and toilets were installed at the roadside.
Pointing out that there were also “serious animal welfare concerns” for livestock in stationary trucks, she warned: “This critical safety and welfare issue must not be overlooked because it is too difficult.”
The Welsh Affairs Committee raised concerns of the combination of “new and untested IT systems and new checks and processes” being introduced at Holyhead, which deals with around 450,000 freight units each year coming and going from Ireland.
As it has no capacity on site to “stack” large numbers of trucks, the port is reliant on the UK government to select and construct inland clearance facilities for lorries awaiting processing, said the report.
But no decisions have been made on the location for such facilities either in the Holyhead area or near Fishguard and Pembroke in southwest Wales.
The committee urged ministers to publish contingency plans for the conduct of checks from July in case no inland facilities are available by that point.
The committee’s Conservative chair, Stephen Crabb, said: “Wales is far from ready for the end of the Brexit transition period.
“We are particularly concerned about the implications of this for Holyhead, one of the UK’s busiest ports for trade with the EU. There are significant risks of delays and disruption to the smooth flow of trade through the port.
“It is vital that UK and Welsh governments now work together with urgency and focus to make the necessary decisions on the location of facilities for carrying out new checks on goods moving through Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke Dock.
“Even if decisions are finalised this month and planning permission expedited, there is an unacceptable level of risk that neither north nor southwest Wales will have appropriate inland facilities ready for the full introduction of border checks in July 2021.
“It’s therefore critical that the UK government publishes its contingency plans for how checks will be conducted if neither facility is ready in time.”
A UK government spokesperson said: “We have been clear that the end of the transition period will bring both opportunities and challenges – that is why we have invested around £1 billion to make sure our borders and businesses are ready.
“In Wales we have worked with Welsh government and others to secure a site on Anglesey for inland clearance checks for Holyhead Port. Responsibility for inland facilities serving the ports of Pembroke Dock and Fishguard is devolved and is a matter for the Welsh Government.
“The UK Government is also running a major public information campaign on what businesses and citizens need to do to prepare for the end of the transition period.”