The Department of Transport is holding private discussions with shipping firms to resume ferry services between Ramsgate and the Belgian seaside town of Ostend in the event of a no-deal Brexit. As negotiations with the European Union continue to stall, the Government is still working on plans to prevent chaos at Britain’s busiest ports because of the demand for extra customs checks. There are concerns in Westminster that France could deliberately cause chaos by slowing customs checks at its ports.
Under the secret plans, Ramsgate would be used to relieve pressure on Dover after warnings of 17-mile traffic jams being created outside Europe’s busiest port within minutes of extra customs checks being introduced.
If Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal, customs checks could take up to 45 minutes on each of the thousands of lorries being carried between Dover and Calais in France.
The Port of Ramsgate is 20 miles north of Dover and resurrecting its 65-mile link with Ostend opens an extra door to mainland Europe and alleviate pressure on current routes between the UK and EU.
The Ramsgate-Ostend route was closed in 2013 after the collapse of operator TransEuropa but Thanet Council is hoping to re-establish the link and is in discussions with new firms who could reopen the possibility it as truck-ferry route.
“We recognise that Ramsgate could play a role in supporting post-Brexit resilience by offering an alternative route for some cross-Channel traffic, to ensure at least some movement of goods should there be significant delays in Dover,” a spokesman for the council said.
Ramsgate could also open up a route to the Dutch port of Rotterdam as Brexit opens up the potential for new shipping ventures.
Dover currently operates 120 ferries a day carrying 10,000 lorries a day to the Continent, which represents 17 percent of UK trade in goods.
Last month, Dominic Raab told MPs the Government is preparing for a “worst-case scenario” in which France deliberately hold up and slow lorries moving through Calais.
The Brexit Secretary said: “We also need to prepare for the worst-case scenario, whereby the authorities at Calais are deliberately directing a go-slow approach, by supporting a diversion of the flow to more amenable ports in other countries.”
The leader of northern France has also made demands to EU bosses and Paris to ensure chaos is avoided in the event of a no-deal divorce.
Xavier Bertrand, president of the Northern Hauts-de-France region, pleaded for more help and resources from Brussels and Paris in order to prepare for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit to preserve business between Britain and his region.
Hauts-de-France is the closest French region to the UK and contains Calais, Boulogne-sur-Mer and Dunkirk, whose ports rely heavily on business from passengers and goods travelling to Britain.
Mr Bertrand has told the European Commission he would have to allow softer rules on border checks and begged for more resources from President Emmanuel Macron’s government if Britain leaves the bloc without a deal on March 29, 2019.
He told the Financial Times: “It is not only the north of France that would be impacted by a no-deal but rather all of France and all of Europe.
“The trucks, companies and factories that will be blocked will be those of north of France, the whole of France and Germany.”
“If we have two minutes of extra customs controls for trucks, it will mean 27 kms of traffic jams on both sides and this will result in complete paralysis,” he added.
“This is one of the busiest commercial arteries in the world – we must do everything to avoid chaos.”