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Shocked Cabinet told no-deal Brexit may force government to operate lorry ferries

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling leaving Downing Street, London, following a Cabinet meeting. Credit: PA

A shocked Cabinet was today told of Department of Transport contingency plans to own or lease roll-on roll-off lorry ferries to make sure vital supplies of goods and medicines continue to reach these shores if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

According to work commissioned by Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, a possible French decision to reintroduce customs checks could reduce freight coming into the UK via Dover and the Channel Tunnel by around 85%.

So the UK would in those circumstances have to bring in vital imports to other ports such as the port of London, Tilbury and Liverpool.

Freight traffic waits at the Port of Dover in Kent Credit: PA

The proposed scheme is called GOOL, or Government Owned or Operated Logistics.

“It’s the kind of stuff governments do in a time of war” said one member of the Cabinet. “It is as serious as that”.

That said the best precedent for the plan was the creation by Clement Atlee’s Labour government in 1948 of the National Freight Corporation, which was originally known as British Road Services.

In the case of GOOL, three options are being examined: buying ships, leasing them or converting military vessels.

I am told the military option is thought to be the least viable.

“This was the bombshell in a meeting that contained lots of dull stuff” said another minister.

He added that perhaps it would be the “sobering moment” that showed colleagues why a no-deal Brexit would be “so damaging”.