BREXIT backers in Portsmouth have been ‘betrayed’ by the government’s shambolic ‘Dad’s Army-style’ handling of Britain’s divorce bid with the European Union, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable has said in a scathing attack on the government.
Arch-remainer Sir Vince said the city should be ‘furious’ about the way the negotiations have been handled, which has created a ‘toxic division’ within the British public.
His comments come ahead of a crunch vote in parliament next Tuesday over prime minister Theresa May’s planned deal.
She delayed the vote last month amid fears it would crumble in parliament and fail to gain enough support from MPs, leaving Britain’s Brexit bid in tatters.
During a visit to Portsmouth International Port today, Sir Vince was told if a no-deal Brexit was to happen it could create a surge of lorries crowding the destination – with queues backing out onto the M275 and M27, causing traffic mayhem.
Speaking to The News, Sir Vince said: ‘Portsmouth has been betrayed by the government’s incompetence.
‘The government simply hasn’t thought through this no-deal Brexit. It’s a very amateurish, Dad’s Army approach.
‘It’s a complete mess and I can well understand why people in Portsmouth would be absolutely furious.’
Portsmouth currently transports up to 500 lorries a day abroad.
However, it is feared that hundreds of lorries could be diverted to Portsmouth from Dover to dodge delays caused by increased customs security in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Mike Sellers, director of Portsmouth International Port, said the transport hub could expect to see upwards of 1,000 lorries arriving every day, which could clog the M275 as they queue to get into the city facility.
He said: ‘We want to be Brexit-ready, whatever Brexit is, and we have been planning with the city council and the local resilience forum to achieve this.
‘But what we can’t afford is queuing lorries from the port. It’s only 13 lorry lengths from the port to the M275.
‘We could very quickly clog-up the main route into Portsmouth.’
Portsmouth City Council had earmarked land at Tipner which could have been used as a processing area for up to 450 lorries, which would avoid them queuing on the M275 and further a field.
However, the authority is at loggerheads with the Ministry of Defence, which owns the land and has refused to release it.
Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of city council, has already joined with other council chiefs at authorities in Southampton, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, to lobby the PM and transport secretary Chris Grayling, to order the MoD to release the land to store extra lorries.
If not released, lorries could queue on a 20-mile section of the M3 campaigners warned.
He said: ‘The police are saying we have to have a plan; the council has found land at Dunsbury Farm, near Leigh Park, to store 450 lorries but if they can’t be stored there the MoD is refusing to release land to store the lorries.
‘So we’re talking about having to queue lorries on the motorway, on the hard shoulder, as an operation stack, to be able to keep them out of the city of Portsmouth.’
Lib Dem Cllr Vernon-Jackson accused Highways England and the Department of Transport of ‘refusing to work together’ with Hampshire Constabulary to address the issue and said he was ‘really worried’ the government ‘wasn’t listening’ to the city’s concerns.
Sir Vince added: ‘The government is taking no interest in demands to have additional lorry space.
‘The council and police simply can’t get anything out of the government to help solve this problem.’
He vowed he would lobby the PM in parliament and urge her to provide additional support to Portsmouth.
A Highways England spokesman said: ‘We currently have no plans to use any section of the M3 or other parts of the strategic road network to hold lorries should there be disruption at Portsmouth Port, and we would have significant concerns with any suggested plan that proposed it.
‘We continue to support Hampshire Resilience Forum which leads on contingency planning across the county on how we can help with any extra traffic the Port are expecting.’