Ferries between Dover and Calais and traffic using the Channel Tunnel could be disrupted until the end of September 2019, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said. He made the forecast in a letter to the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry today. The Cabinet minister also said the Government was consulting on plans for chemists to ration drugs to ensure patients can have access to medicines in the event of shortages.
But Brexiteer Tory MP Andrew Bridgen rubbished the claim as “Project Fear on steroids” ahead of next week’s crunch Commons vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
“It’s the last throw of the dice from the prime minister who is desperate to get MPs to vote for her withdrawal agreement,” he said.
In his letter, Mr Hancock wrote: “Although we cannot know exactly what each member state will do with respect to checks on the EU border, the cross-Government planning assumptions have been revised so we can prepare for the potential impacts that the imposition of third country controls by member states could have.
“These impacts are likely to be felt mostly on the short straits crossings into Dover and Folkestone, where the frequent and closed loop nature of these mean that both exports and imports would be affected.
“The revised cross-Government planning assumptions show that there will be significantly reduced access across the short straits, for up to six months.
“This is very much a worst-case scenario; however, as a responsible Government, we have a duty to plan for all scenarios.”
Mr Hancock also suggested that current plans to have drug firms stockpile six weeks’ worth of supplies might not go far enough.
“In areas where we cannot tolerate significant risk to the flow of goods, such as with medicines and medical products, we need to have contingency plans in place for this worst-case planning assumption.
“This means that whilst the six-week stockpiling activities remain a critical part of our contingency plans, this now needs to be supplemented with additional actions.”
Ministers are drawing up plans to fly in vital drugs and give priority to lorries carrying medical supplies at gridlocked ports.
Kent Council’s leader Paul Carter called for emergency measures to prevent lorries entering the county to avoid chaos on the roads.
“We now need far more input and information from national Government in how they are going to work with us,” he said.
“There must be a national freight transport plan which, when necessary, can hold lorries back from coming into Kent in the first place should the need arise.”
Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: “Pharmaceutical companies continue to do everything in their power to make sure that patients get access to medicines whatever the Brexit scenario.
“This includes duplicating processes, changing supply routes and stockpiling medicines in line with the Government’s guidance. However, we have been clear that there are things which are out of our control.
“Today’s update on potential border delays for six months in a no-deal scenario is stark. Stockpiling more medicines is not the solution to this problem.
“While we welcome the Secretary of State’s intention to prioritise the flow of medicines and vaccines, we need the detail.
“With just 16 weeks until the UK leaves the EU, we need the Government to take immediate action to open up alternative supply routes between the UK and Europe and tell companies so that they can make plans.”