The government has hired a disaster relief charity to help drivers stuck in lengthy queues at the Port of Dover in Kent during 2023, it has emerged.
The Department for Transport (DfT) signed off on a £200,000 contract for RE:ACT – a humanitarian charity which gets aid to war and disaster zones – to help those hit by disruption at Dover.
The charity will hand our food and water to motorists and lorry drivers if they are hampered by the major standstills seen in 2022, linked to post-Brexit problems.
The DfT contract said the emergency response plan was necessary due to “regular disruptions” on the roads near Dover port and the Channel tunnel, according to The Guardian.
RE:ACT – run by former British military personnel – will be tasked with helping local authorities if traffic gridlock goes on for more than 48 hours.
Dover saw periods of major disruption during 2022 after a further set of Brexit issues saw IT snags and officials forced to stamp every passport.
Queues of up to 15km were seen after full customs controls with the EU came into force at the beginning of January 2022 – with hauliers telling The Independent the problems were “entirely” down to Brexit.
Chaos at the port in April was blamed on the suspension of sailings by P&O Ferries – but the failure of the post-Brexit IT system and the burden of new checks also added to the hold-ups, according to industry figures.
In July, long queues built up again due to new requirements to stamp every passport. In November, the Port of Dover boss warned that the new EU entry-exit system could cause “significant and continued disruption for a very long time”.
It comes as the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union warned that Border Force strikes could be extended to Dover and other ports within weeks. The union said it had a six-month mandate for action, after immigration staff walked out at six major airports over Christmas.
Business leaders have warned that ongoing problems at the Kent port was damaging the reputation of the UK overseas, as well as disrupting passengers and freight trade.
Labour MP Nick Smith said the need to bring in a disaster response charity had resulted from the government’s “incompetence around the border”, adding: “That the government has turned to them shows the scale of the chaos unleashed by their failure to deliver a Brexit that works.”
The RE:ACT charity, set up by former armed forces chief General Sir Nick Parker, has responded to emergencies in the UK as well as overseas.
Its teams have been out in eastern Europe to provide relief to the Ukrainian people who fled the Russian invasion, but have also helped the UK’s voluntary sector with the response to the Covid pandemic.
The government advert for the Dover relief contact, lasting up until November 2023, stated: “After the events of Christmas 2020 where prolonged delays resulted from the border being closed for two days, it was recognised that local response capabilities had been severely overstretched.”
Kent Resilience Forum – including Kent Police, National Highways, Eurotunnel and Port of Dover – will continue to lead the response to traffic disruption in Kent. The forum’s plans include Operation Brock, which sees a barrier aimed at helping the flow of traffic not heading to the port or Eurotunnel to keep moving.
A government spokesperson said: “Driver welfare is our priority and it’s only right we have robust emergency support in place in case of unprecedented issues at the border.”
They added: “There are currently no known congestion issues, and we continue to work across government and with our partners, including the French government, to ensure passengers have the smoothest journey possible.”