France has a new president. And I believe there is good reason for optimism in Dover and Deal about the new French leader.
Because Emmanuelle Macron may be a more positive force for Britain than people expect. With him there is the potential to forge a deeper relationship with France and reach an accommodation with Europe that will benefit both us and the EU. To strike a New Entente Cordiale – a stronger deal between Dover and Calais.
Five years ago I sat opposite Emmanuelle Macron, the then economics adviser to President Hollande of France. I was leading a cross-party Parliamentary delegation to discuss the EU and what kind of settlement Britain might negotiate.
We all thought he was incredibly young to be doing this critical job. Which is what they said when he later created his own party and ran for the presidency. Just as in his campaign, Emmanuelle Macron impressed us all from the start. He clearly wanted to see France pass the structural reforms that we battled so hard for in the 1980s and now take for granted. He was pro-European, yet struck us as incredibly pragmatic as well. He was also a hard-headed negotiator from his days as a deal-maker in the City of London. If anyone can turn France around, he can. He may well to see it is pragmatically in France's interest for our two nations to enjoy closer ties as we leave the EU.
Yet we need to plan now to make sure trade continues to flow freely – whether there is a deal or no deal with the EU. Dover is the gateway and the guardian of the nation. The port handles £120 billion of imports and exports every year. More than 10,000 freight vehicles pass through the docks each day.
Gridlock at Dover and Deal will gridlock the UK economy too. We've seen in recent years how finely balanced the infrastructure is and how problems can swiftly spiral. Tailbacks in 2015 caused by Calais strikes were estimated to cost Britain's economy £1 billion. In 2016, a lack of French border police at Dover caused huge tailbacks on the roads to the port.
That's why I've worked with the ports, shipping and haulage industries to develop a detailed plan to ensure order at our border and that we are ready on day one when we leave. I've been working closely with the French too – and the plan is also backed by Xavier Betrand, president of the Calais and Dunkirk region.
In less than two years we will be leaving the European Union. It is vital that we are ready on day one for every eventuality – particularly at the Dover and Deal frontline. The truth is we can make a massive success of Brexit. By taking action now with a queue-busting plan we can ensure that we are ready.
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