UK minister Michael Gove has admitted the country could face “weeks of potential disruption” in Kent as new Brexit import checks come into force next month.
The cabinet office minister said queues of up to 7,000 trucks in Kent were “within the bounds of possibility,” with drivers facing delays of up to two days to get across the border.
New trade rules after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December mean extra paperwork for freight companies and drivers as well as firms importing and exporting goods. There are fears not all traders will have the right documentation with them at borders, sparking wider delays and disruption.
But Gove told MPs on Thursday the government was more confident than a few months ago that such severe delays could be avoided.
Appearing in front of a parliamentary committee on Brexit preparations, he stressed that such figures, based on official documents leaked in September, were “not a prediction.”
“A reasonable worst-case scenario is always there to help with planning. The whole point about it is it’s certainly within the bounds of possibility and certainly something which therefore a prudent government would take into account when planning,” he said.
“Without wanting to jinx the future — we’re a little bit more optimistic than we were two to months ago about the likelihood of avoiding the reasonable worst case scenario.”
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He stressed it was “very, very difficult” to make accurate predictions, as disruption would be affected by levels of trader readiness despite government efforts to prepare them.
He added: “I would expect we would find that after an initial few days and weeks of potential disruption, things will resolve themselves into a new normal relatively early in the New Year.”
Gove also claimed most businesses had “got ready” for trade outside the customs union and single market, which Britain will leave even if a deal is struck.
He told MPs the chances of a deal were “less than 50%,” and played down the chances of Britain swiftly resuming negotiations next year if no agreement is reached. “That would be it,” he said, brushing off assumptions Britain could seek to strike an agreement within a few months’ of potential departure on no-deal terms.
There would be “contact” between the UK and the EU in early 2021, but he added: “What we would not be doing is attempting to negotiate a new deal.”