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Near the UK’s busiest port, hopefully Brexit is paved with bitumen

MERSHAM, UK – The schools surrounding the quiet village of Mersham, just 20 miles from the white cliffs of Dover, are a view of the idyllic English countryside. Lush green trees swayed above rippling patterns of golden wheat. The spire of a 13th-century church stands on the horizon.

But soon, something less charming could invade this pastoral scene: a 27-acre parking lot with hundreds – even thousands – of idling trucks. If Britain’s departure from the European Union caused a chaos that many feared, there could be as many as 2,000 vehicles going to France at a time here in an asphalt Brexit purgatory.

Four years after the British voted to leave the bloc, the implications of that decision are slowly unfolding for some people living in a region where support for Brexit is strong. The parking area is being referred to by many as the “Farage Garage” – a reference to Nigel Farage, a nationalist politician, one of the biggest people for Brexit.

“Noise and pollution would be huge, especially if this was a 24-hour facility,” said Liz Wright, an elected board member in the city of Ashford, looking out over the official site called. was MOJO on a nice sunny morning recently.

Mrs. Wright, a Green Party member who voted to leave the European Union in 2016 – as well as six out of 10 people here, added: “This happened too suddenly and without any consultation. , ”Added that she did not expect this to be the result.

At the time, the Leaving campaigners dismissed their opponents’ prediction of more bureaucracy and the disruption of transactions on the English Channel as a “fear of the project”. Now, in the southeastern region calling itself the “garden of England,” that fear has become a very real form of runway.

Despite leaving the bloc on January 31, the UK remains tied to the European customs system until the end of the year, so cargo still enters from the continent with minimal disruption. In preparation for what happens next, the government is spending £ 705 million – more than $ 920 million – to upgrade customs and border infrastructure.

Supporters of Brexit have made confident statements that the new system will hardly slow the flow of goods. But if it’s wrong, it could seriously damage Britain’s economy and the lives of its youth.

The site near Mersham is designed to check the incoming cargo on ferries from France. But local politicians have been told that, if the post-Brexit rule changes bring chaos to the Channel ports, this could also become a temporary truck park.

“People are very worried about what might happen,” said Damian Green, Conservative party lawmaker for Ashford and a former senior cabinet minister.

“The worse case will be miserable, maybe for several months, but in the best case, it won’t have to be used as an emergency truck parking lot,” he said.

Kent knows all about the traffic chaos around the Channel ports. In 2015, when French ferry workers continued the strike, a line of 4,600 trucks stretched back 30 miles across a road.

On that occasion, the deadlock was combined with a heat wave. Emergency teams handed over 18,000 bottles of water to truck drivers trapped by perishable cargo.

Border delays can have a significant impact on ‘just in time’ supply chains, potentially causing widespread economic disruptions, a recent Government Institute report said. while also turning Kent’s areas into truck parking lots, “an organization that researches what will happen in January.

Even before the government acquired the MOJO site, it was expected by many to be a warehouse. So the construction did not surprise many people, but the nature of the project did.

Those who thought the stalemate could be avoided included John Lang, who voted for Brexit and didn’t change his mind. He describes his quiet house and garden near MOJO as a “little paradise” and is confident it will continue to do so.

“Everyone is interested in making it work,” Lang said.

Locals wanting to stay in the European Union feel justified, even if they are reluctant to oppose it.

“I just think it’s sad that this is another country that we lost,” said Sheila Catt, an administrator for the health services. She is also worried about air pollution.

The problem for Mersham lies partly in the geography of Dover, a short drive east, where one of the busiest ports in the world is crushed into a confined space limited by cliffs. the famous white stone behind it.

Today, as many as 10,000 trucks can pass through the port daily, rolling on the ferry in a constant flow of cargo, mainly to and from Calais in France.

With the UK operating under the rules of the European single market, trucks typically arrive at the port of Dover in about 8 minutes. Only a small number of vehicles were stopped.

That deal is slated to end on December 31, when the UK is expected to work out its own roadmap. According to Port Dover estimates, the risk of disruption is very high – just adding two minutes to the time required to process each truck, could create a 17-mile backup.

Negotiations over a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and the European Union are at a standstill. But even if they reach a tariff elimination agreement, testing of products will be required more than now and there is simply no space to do them at Dover. So trucks will stop at places like Mersham instead.

The port’s chief executive, Doug Bannister, said that the Dover-Calais ferry service is economically important across Europe so any deadlock can be resolved quickly. If there were disruptions, he said, Dover had systems in place to deal with bottlenecks relatively quickly, and Britain plans to change the rules phased, giving time to adapt.

But he admits “some of the unknown there,” including how sternly the French government would handle the cargo inspection at Calais. Any deadlock on one side of the Canal will spread quickly to the other – if the truck cannot roll, the ferry cannot load other vehicles for the return trip.

The new UK electronic customs declaration system is still under development and surveys show that smaller exporters are not well prepared for the new bureaucracy and are preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am very, very confident that there will be no interruptions on January 1 as it is a bank holiday, but January 2 could be another question,” said Mr. Bannister.

At the MOJO site, Paul Bartlett, representative of the Conservative Party at the Kent County Council, welcomed the construction of the customs facility and the work it could bring, but opposed its use as a Containers for delayed trucks. “One of the main frustrations is the lack of information,” he said.

But while sitting in the gardens of Farriers Arms, a country pub in Mersham, Jo Gregory says the effects of Brexit are only just beginning to sink in.

Ms. Gregory, a sales assistant who did not vote in the 2016 referendum and still does not have a firm opinion on Brexit, said: “I don’t think people thought it through until recently.

But she doesn’t stay here to decide.

So worried she was about the MOJO development that she was moving from a village about four miles away from the other site, Westwell, far away.

“It’s going to get busier, it’ll get noisy,” she said, “and it’s bad enough with the traffic we have at the moment.”

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