Empty lorries crossing the Channel to restock will be allowed to skip queues at key ports, as concerns mount in Whitehall that disruption is set to worsen.
“We are proposing an emergency contingency measure . . . to expedite the return of empty food lorries from the UK to the EU where they can be restocked with supplies,” the document says.
Up to 300 trucks a day would be fast-tracked outside Dover and Folkestone, under a scheme open only to the largest supermarkets and their subcontractors.
Seen by the Financial Times, the proposal has been sent to industry groups by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – which warned “the potential for further disruption remains high”.
It was revealed as Liz Truss, the trade secretary, rebuffed Labour calls to assess the economic harm from the Christmas Eve trade deal – which independent analysts have put at about 4.5 per cent of GDP.
Ms Truss said it was time to “move forward”, despite the government publishing economic impact assessments for much-smaller ‘rolled over’ deals with the likes of Moldova and North Macedonia.
The “emergency” action at ports follows the supermarkets’ warning that the agreement is “pretty much unworkable”, as gaps appear in fresh produce aisles.
Ian Wright, director of The Food and Drink Federation, told MPs that suppliers remained “clueless” about some of the practical implications of a deal agreed “very, very late”.
“All members of the food supply chain have had very little time to get to grips with the provisions of the agreement and are still getting to grips with them,” he said.
Meanwhile, the German logistics group DB Schenker became the latest major parcels operator to suspend delivery services to the UK because of the “enormous bureaucratic regulations”.
The consultation document warns the Dover-Calais route is “critical” to UK food supply, with around 10 per cent of food consumed in the UK coming across the Channel.
In winter months, about 75 per cent of fresh fruit and vegetables comes via this route, according to the British Retail Consortium.
Under the plan, lorries that could demonstrate they are working for a big supermarket or supplier, and were planning to return to the UK within seven days, would be granted a priority permit to bypass lorries stacked on the M20.
It would be triggered if waiting times outside Dover reach eight hours or more and the loads delivered to UK supermarkets fall below 75 per cent of expectations, for two consecutive days.
In the Commons, asked to publish an assessment of the Brexit trade deal, Ms Truss urged Labour to “move forward” and focus on “the 63 countries that we have covered with new trade deals and our aspirations to strike trade deals with the US, New Zealand and Australia”.