A CABINET member has slated city port campaigners for stirring up ‘hysteria’ with what she calls their talk of a no-deal Brexit ‘Armageddon’.
Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP, lashed out at council leaders from across Hampshire who are convinced if Britain leaves Europe without a deal it will cause traffic carnage across the county’s motorways.
The campaigners, who represent heads of authorities in Portsmouth, Hampshire, Southampton and the Isle of Wight, are worried a no-deal Brexit would cause delays in customs checks at Portsmouth International Port – and other ferry terminals – to spiral.
And they say that to dodge security at major ports like Dover, Portsmouth could see an extra 500 lorries a day coming to the port – which would end up queuing on the M275 and M27 because of the extra security.
However, the international development secretary rubbished the claims after she, and seven of her fellow Tory MPs from across the area, met transport secretary, Chris Grayling.
Speaking to The News, Ms Mordaunt said: ‘We are well-prepared for a no deal, although that is not the ideal outcome.
‘MPs are in regular touch with ministers on this and it is vital that our local businesses are given accurate information and expectations.
‘Talk of Armageddon by groups and individuals looking to stop Brexit is reckless. UK and EU citizens, businesses and public services need the facts and support, not hysteria and politicking.’
Port campaigners – which included Portsmouth City Council leader, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson and Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP – have previously said lorries would have to be stacked along a 20-mile stretch of the M3 as there is currently no space for them to wait in the city.
However, Mr Grayling confirmed to MPs – which included Suella Braverman, Alan Mak, Caroline Dinenage and George Hollingbery – that would never happen.
Ms Dinenage, Gosport MP, was ‘reassured’ by Mr Grayling, who said the Department for Transport was looking ‘very carefully’ at Portsmouth’s port and that ‘very few additional ferry movements’ in the city were projected.
She said: ‘I was pleased to be reassured that there are no plans to shut any roads and that predictions that the M3 might be affected are wholly inaccurate.
‘I have, however, asked the secretary of state to double-check their profiling to be absolutely certain, as Portsmouth port is very small and the location means that traffic difficulties can easily occur.’
However, Cllr Vernon-Jackson was frustrated council bosses weren’t included in the meeting.
He said the situation at the port required a ‘cross-party’ approach and should not be conducted in the isolated ‘Westminster bubble’.
The Lib Dem chief said: ‘I am disappointed that that was a meeting where people on the ground and councillors were not invited.
‘What the MPs have been told by the Department for Transport absolutely reflects the view of the department that there isn’t a problem.
‘The difficulty with that is that’s not the view held by Hampshire police. If I had to choose who I would trust, I would trust Hampshire police more than the Department for Transport.’
Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South Labour MP, has now demanded the transport secretary comes to Portsmouth.
The city Labour boss said: ‘I am assured the secretary of state for transport has provided assurances to his Conservative colleagues in the house, but what he owes the people of Portsmouth is to listen to their concerns and to respond to legitimate concerns of the international port, city council and local resilience forum.
‘With the risk of a no-deal causing traffic and congestion in our area, what we need is answers and certainty from government, not party politics before national interests.’
Mr Grayling told the MPs he would be writing to Hampshire’s local resilience forum to ‘address and allay’ their fears.
Hampshire police's Assistant Chief Constable Dave Hardcastle previously said stacking lorries on the road network was the force’s ‘least preferred option’ and that campaigners were ‘actively seeking holding areas’ for vehicles, with Havant’s Dunsbury Park earmarked as the favourite.