Government Spends £7m As No-deal Ferry Bookings Start

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Brittany FerriesImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Brittany Ferries is one of two suppliers who has a contract to provide extra ferry services

The government has paid £7m for its controversial extra ferry contracts which will be used in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The money covers the first fortnight of the services, which will transport vital goods such as medicines.

The ferries may be needed in case of congestion on south east coast roads.

In December the Department for Transport contracted three suppliers to provide additional capacity on cross-channel ferries that carry lorries.

Brittany Ferries and Danish ferry company DFDS will run the additional services after the government's deal with the third supplier it contracted - Seaborne Freight - collapsed.

Shortly after it was awarded the contract, the BBC found out that Seaborne had no ships and had never run a ferry service.

A number of ports including Portsmouth, Plymouth and Inningham that are not normally commercially viable to operate, are part of the government's contingency planning for a no-deal.

They could be used by the government's additional ferry services to avoid the feared bottlenecks at Dover and Calais.

The government has begun to pay for these additional services to operators.

Even though the importers will still pay for their transit into the UK, it is unlikely that the government will recoup the costs. This is part of its no-deal contingency budgets.

These services will help to ensure that crucial - so called "category one goods" get through to the UK, in the event of a no-deal. Such goods typically include medicines for the NHS and chemicals needed for the UK water system and additives needed for fuels.

Current predictions from the Department for Transport, are that in the event of a no-deal, the first few weeks after exiting the EU will be fine for logistics.

They believe this to be the case because lots of UK businesses and government departments have stockpiled goods.

But, as weeks progress, they expect the situation could become very different.

The government source also confirmed that almost all their flight agreements are now in place, stipulating that there should be no disruption to flights.

But the crunch point could be customs checks for passengers. Even though the planes are on-time and flying, can passport inspectors in the UK and overseas process the huge numbers of travellers who will become third country nationals from outside the EU quickly enough?

However, some airports on the continent that are hugely popular with tourists from the UK, have guaranteed the government that they are ready for any outcome. They are well aware they need to protect their very important tourist incomes from British holidaymakers.

Eurostar will see a severe change to its operation in the event of no deal. Recent delays were exacerbated by customs officials in France striking because of testing no deal customs checks. If those new checks become reality, it is thought, is that up to 50% of services could be cancelled

Image copyright PA
Image caption Attention has been focused on how to keep vital trade routes across the English Channel flowing as smoothly as possible.

Planning for Operation Stack, the holding pattern for lorries in Kent in the event of huge delays on the approach to Dover, is almost all complete.

The government says that Manston Airport, the disused airfield just north of Dover which will be a huge lorry park, will be fully operational by next Friday if the UK leaves the EU with no deal.

The problem could be for passengers. For freight and lorries, substantial plans are in place, to keep drivers in static position for hours.

But for people in cars, waiting for similar times is not an option. If the delays become protracted, sources suggest that the government may issue guidance that people should not travel.