The Government is to use up to 150 lorries in a major test of its plans for UK border disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
A “live test” on Monday will examine the proposal to use Manston airfield near Ramsgate as a mass “HGV holding facility” to alleviate congestion on the roads to the Channel ports, the Department for Transport has confirmed.
In a letter to hauliers, obtained by Sky News, DfT and Kent County Council officials say they would run tests during the morning rush hour at 8am, and again at 11am, to “establish the safest optimum release rate of HGVs” from the airfield to Dover along the A256.
It said it would pay for 100-150 hauliers from the local area to take part in the test of Operation Brock.
The news came after it was reported that Theresa May was due to speak with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday as she seeks added flexibility in the Withdrawal Agreement.
MPs are due to debate the PM’s Brexit deal on Wednesday ahead of a meaningful vote the following week but the EU has yet to offer any changes.
A DfT spokeswoman said: “We do not want or expect a no-deal scenario and continue to work hard to deliver a deal with the EU.
“However, it is the duty of a responsible Government to continue to prepare for all eventualities and contingencies, including a possible no deal.
“We will be testing part of Operation Brock to ensure that, if it needs to be implemented, the system is fully functional.”
Congestion at the Channel ports caused by the reintroduction of customs checks on goods has been one of the most commonly cited negative impacts of a no-deal withdrawal from the EU at the end of March.
However a poll of Conservative Party members has dealt a new blow to Mrs May’s chances of getting her deal through the Commons, with 57% of grassroots Tories saying they would support leaving the EU without an agreement.
The DUP has also maintained its opposition to the plan because of the proposed customs “backstop” element of the deal - affecting the Northern Ireland/Ireland border - agreed by Mrs May with Brussels.
Its Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said on Friday there is no way his party can support the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal,
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s not just because of the regulations which Northern Ireland would be subject to with the backstop, but also the fact we would have to treat the rest of the United Kingdom as a third country, we would not participate in any trade deals which the United Kingdom may enter into in the future and we would find that there would be a border down the Irish Sea, which would impede trade with our biggest trading partner, namely GB.”
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds insisted his party’s opposition to Irish border backstop proposals had not lessened after a meeting with the Prime Minister on Thursday.
Mr Dodds said: “The Withdrawal Agreement, as currently proposed, flies in the face of the Government’s commitments on Northern Ireland as we leave the EU.”
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said a second EU referendum would “trigger a very populist reaction” and would further divide the UK.
Speaking to German newspaper Die Welt he said: “The current rate at which Britain is torn would be small compared to the tensions that a second vote would cause.
“It would continue to split our nation.”
The comments echoed his Cabinet colleague Jeremy Hunt, after the Foreign Secretary said earlier this week that the consequences for democracy of another referendum would be “devastating”.