Empty supermarket lorries heading to the EU will be fast tracked during disruption in Kent under Government plans to maintain food supplies.
The proposed scheme aims to ensure the vehicles are not delayed from crossing the Channel, so they can be refilled and return as quickly as possible.
Eligible lorries would be given access to open lanes on the M20 during delays at the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel terminal.
The consultation document issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and seen by the PA news agency says these are “emergency measures only to be used in extremis and for the shortest time possible”.
The scheme would be triggered once congestion on the approach roads to Dover reaches eight hours, and deliveries to supermarkets fall below 75% of the schedule for two consecutive days.
Thousands of lorries were backed up in Kent in the days before Christmas when France blocked trade across the Channel due to a mutant variant of coronavirus spreading through the UK.
Defra said “the potential for further disruption remains high” due to the pandemic and new border processes and procedures resulting from the end of the Brexit transition period.
The document went on: “The combination of these unprecedented factors is likely to contribute to delays at the border which could, in turn, prevent the speedy return of empty goods vehicles to the EU where they can collect more food.
“Such delays are likely to have a direct impact on the UK’s food supply.”
Defra is also proposing to fast track Gibraltar-bound groceries, as it relies on the UK for about half of its food supply.
A Government spokesman said: “The UK has a highly resilient food supply chain – and the food industry is well prepared to handle changes to food supply.
“As part of our contingency measures, we are planning a scheme to ensure lorries carrying food can quickly leave the UK to restock and return without disrupting supply chains – and are speaking with stakeholders about how we can best deliver this.”