The government has signed freight contracts worth £86.6m with four ferry companies to ship medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Brittany Ferries, DFDS, P&O and Stena Line will provide additional capacity for up to 3,000 heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) a week using eight ports away from the Dover-Calais short straits across the English Channel.
In the event of no-deal, the government has forecast traffic across the Channel could be disrupted for six months, with a reduction in freight capacity of up to 60%.
Earlier this week the outgoing chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies warned that “patients may die” because of medicine shortages caused by a no-deal Brexit.
The six month contracts will see ferries available to run from October 31 on 13 routes from the continent.
Ferries will travel to Teesport, Hull, Killingholme, Felixstowe, Harwich, Tilbury, Portsmouth and Poole from Cherbourg, Caen, Le Havre, Zeebrugge, Hook of Holland, Rotterdam, Europort, Vlaardingen.
Should the government agree a deal or an extension with the European Union, the government will pay a termination fee of £11.5m, significantly less than the £50m it cost to end contracts put in place before March’s initial Brexit deadline.
That process was controversial because one of the chosen companies, Seaborne Freight, did not own or lease any ferries, but the government is confident that it has learned from that process.
Brittany Ferries, DFDS, P&O and Stena Line are all established operators running regular services in and out of the UK.
“The UK is getting ready to leave the EU on the 31 October and, like any sensible government, we are preparing for all outcomes,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
“Our decisive action means freight operators will be ready and waiting to transport vital medicines into the country from the moment we leave.”
In order to bid for contracts all firms had to already be on the government’s freight capacity framework – a shortlist of experienced and capable freight operators.
The pharmaceutical industry has been preparing for no-deal for 18 months, stockpiling at least six weeks’ supply of up to 12,000 medicines and medical supplies.
Air freight capacity will also be chartered to allow the prompt delivery of time-sensitive medicines.
Suppliers of category one medicines will need to register to use the government freight capacity and will receive a supplier access code to book tickets on the dedicated routes.
Major suppliers of insulin including Novo Nordisk and Sanofi have chartered their own additional capacity.
Last month, Jesper Christensen, DFDS’s director of operations at Dover, told Sky News disruption was inevitable in the event of no-deal.
“We are worried that some of the import and export and also some of our customers are not ready and that means they are not able to obtain the paperwork in order to pass the French customs and they of course will cause some disruption.
“From day one, it will start and it will continue for a couple of weeks. There will be a learning curve for some of them, for some of them it will be very steep.”
Business correspondent @pkelso The government has signed freight contracts worth £86.6m with four ferry companies to ship medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Brittany Ferries, DFDS, P&O and Stena Line will provide additional capacity for up to 3,000 heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) a week using eight ports away from the Dover-Calais short straits across the English Channel.