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Food safety fears over lack of Brexit ports plans

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Lack of government preparations for Brexit have alarmed councils with major ports in their area.

Fears centre on their ability to provide an adequate port health service and the prospect of long traffic jams if lorries cannot access ferries.

Environmental health departments provide port health services but at present relatively little incoming food is checked as it either originated in the EU or was inspected when it entered it.

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health this month warned that a ‘no deal’ Brexit could compromise food safety and public health.

Its Northern Ireland director Gary McFarlane said: “CIEH has long been concerned about how we will maintain our food safety and integrity in the absence of an agreement with the EU.

“This is not just about customs. In a no deal scenario, proper checks on food, as well as consumer goods, are essential to ensure public protection. These cannot be fudged.”

Council leaders told LGC they fear there will be insufficient environmental health officers to enforce checks at ports.

Tudor Evans (Lab), leader of Plymouth City Council, said: “Port health checks are the problem because we do not have enough environmental health officers and we don’t know when they will get the training they need from the Food Standards Agency.”

Cllr Evans said officers would need training in foodstuffs they did not now handle as they were internal to the EU, but “we’ve been told the training will not be available until after Brexit”.

He added: “Plymouth will have fish and shellfish coming in from long ferry crossings - 24 hours from Santander and six from Roscoff, - and normally there are 2,500 lorries a day but it could go up to 4,500 if they are diverted here from other ports.”

Dover DC leader Keith Morris (Con) said: “We do not know what products we might have to inspect and that will fall to EHOs.

“At present 98-99% of goods are not checked as they are inter-EU freight and we do not know what it means if it has to be checked. There is a shortage of EHOs - I doubt there are many of them looking for work!”

Dover also faces gridlock if customs delays occur at the port after Brexit, with lorries backing up on the A20 and M20.

Cllr Morris said: “If they cannot get on a ferry they are directed out of the town but that leads to trucks backing up, so word gets round and drivers start using quite unsuitable inland routes and those jam up with HGVs.

“Kent (CC) is trying to resolve this but it’s only the police who can tell drivers where to go, and are there enough of them for that?”

Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson (Lib Dem) said Highways England had failed to communicate with Hampshire Police about a potential bottleneck at Portsmouth, where the freight gate is immediately adjacent to the M275.

Customs clearance is at present done remotely but is likely to cause queues if it has to be carried out at the gate.

“Highways England seem to think Portsmouth is like Dover with constant crossings and equally spaced lorry arrivals but it isn’t; we have only crossings five times a day,” he said.

“It’s normally an advantage that our freight gate is right on the motorway but it can only take a queue of 13 lorries - get 14 and the last one is queuing on the M275, and that quickly backs up onto the M27, which serves the whole south coast.”

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