The Government is considering a plan to buy its own fleet of ferries to bring vital food and medicines to Britain to stop the country running out in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Theresa May revealed the ‘bombshell’ plans to stunned ministers in a cabinet meeting to update senior MPs on the progress of Brexit negotiations and no-deal contingency planning, ITV’s political editor Robert Peston revealed.
During the meeting Transport Secretary Chris Grayling warned that deliveries coming into the UK via Dover and the Channel Tunnel could drop by 95% if France reintroduces customs checks after Britain leaves the EU.
This would then force the UK to bring in supplies via other ports, such as London and Liverpool.
The three options being examined by the Government are buying ships, leasing them or converting military vessels.
A member of the Cabinet told Mr Peston: “It’s the kind of stuff governments do in a time of war. It is as serious as that.”
Another added: “This was the bombshell in a meeting that contained lots of dull stuff.”
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Responding to the reports, the Department for Transport spokesman said: “We remain confident of reaching an agreement with the EU, but it is only sensible for government and industry to prepare for a range of scenarios.
“We are continuing to work closely with partners on contingency plans to ensure that trade can continue to move as freely as possible between the UK and Europe.”
Pro-EU Labour MP David Lammy said: “Emergency ships will be chartered for food and medicine if we leave the EU with no deal.
“But at least when we’re using ration books and running out of drugs, we’ll have taken back control.”
The reported plans come as leaked Cabinet papers obtained by The Times indicated the transition period during which the UK will remain tied to Brussels could turn into a ‘long-running’ arrangement lasting years.
The option of extending the transition period has been put forward as a way of resolving the impasse over the Irish frontier by giving extra time to find a mechanism to avoid a hard border.
The transition period is due to expire at the end of 2020 and Mrs May has insisted that if an extension is necessary it should only last a few months.
But the leaked documents conceded that the plan ‘could, in theory, lead to a long-running IP (implementation period)’.
The arrangement could last for many years on a ‘rolling’ basis with an annual decision on whether to extend the period.
Responding to the leak, a Downing Street spokesman said: “This is nothing more than a partial reflection of advice to ministers, and not of decisions taken – the Prime Minister made her position absolutely clear in the House of Commons on Monday.
“As the PM said then, we do not believe any extension to the implementation period will be necessary, and in any event we would have to be out of it well before the end of the Parliament.
“We would not accept a position in which the UK, having negotiated in good faith an agreement which prevents a hard border in Northern Ireland, nonetheless finds itself indefinitely locked into an alternative, inferior arrangement against our will.”
Mrs May is set to face Tory MPs who are increasingly concerned about her Brexit plans at the backbench 1922 Committee later today amid rumours of plots to oust her as leader.