Operation Stack returned to Kent’s roads last week in response to delays in freight crossing the Channel, caused by Storm Gareth. It was a reminder both of the need for a permanent solution to the problems created when lorries are unable to leave the country, and also that this can occur by natural events, not just strike action or the slow processing of vehicles at the ports by the French authorities. This may be the last time though that we see the complete closure of the coastbound M20 as part of Operation Stack. Work will soon be finished to install the hard barrier on the London bound carriageway between Maidstone and Ashford, to allow the two-way flow of traffic as part of a contraflow system. This is one of the preparations being made for managing road freight, in case of any delays in processing lorries after the UK leaves the European Union. The new scheme means the M20 will continue to support cars and vans moving in both directions, even when the coastbound motorway is being used for lorries queueing for access to the Port of Dover and Channel Tunnel. This new system will not create the same traffic congestion on the county’s main A roads as it does when the M2O is closed. On Tuesday this week I’ll also be meeting with the Roads Minister, Jesse Norman, Highways England, Kent police and the county council, to discuss the progress that has been made with the successor scheme to Operation Stack, and our contingency planning for Brexit.
On Thursday this week the Prime Minister will attend the European Council meeting in Brussels along with the other heads of government of the EU member states. There are two crucial issues that need to be resolved here. Firstly, whether concessions can be negotiated on the Brexit deal to allow the UK to independently leave the backstop to the withdrawal agreement. The need for this flexibility, so that the UK does not remain bound by an unfavourable agreement for years after we leave the EU, has been one of my biggest concerns, and was the main reason that I again voted against the deal last week. I think it would be wrong for the Prime Minister to bring back the Brexit agreement to the House of Commons this week, before the European Council meeting, unless there are meaningful changes to it. The second issue is whether or not there should be a delay to the article 50 process, which sets the timetable for Brexit. If a short technical delay is required in order for the UK parliament to pass any final necessary measures before we leave is one thing. I would not favour though a long open-ended delay to Brexit with no certain prospect of an agreement for how we would actually leave. This was the reason that I voted in the House of Commons last week against a motion that there should be such an arbitrary extension to the article 50 process, if the current Brexit deal is rejected by parliament.