Commuters faced “chaos” on Monday after a lorry park was set up on the M20 to get it ready for a no-deal Brexit - despite the EU agreeing to delay Britain’s departure.
The reintroduction of Operation Brock caused almost immediate traffic jams after morning roadworks in Kent overran into rush hour, with a crash later compounding problems.
It is understood the complicated contraflow system could take up to 48 hours to stand down, with Highways England and the government yet to make a decision.
Critics branded the government “cack-handed” for stepping up no-deal Brexit preparations last week and questioned why it had taken the “truly baffling decision” to introduce the measures before Britain has even left the EU.
The complicated contraflow system, part of the government’s billions of pounds of spending on no-deal Brexit preparations, is designed to allow motorists to continue to use the M20 while setting aside space for lorries heading to Dover to queue, in case of disruption at the port after EU withdrawal.
But three hours after the EU agreed to accept Britain’s request to delay Brexit from Thursday to January 31, Operation Brock was still in place.
Kent radio station knfm shared photographs of the chaos, which began unfolding from early this morning .
Twitter users were unimpressed at the “chaos”, with one describing Highways England and the Department for Transport as “muppets”.
Another user branded the exercise “a complete waste of time and money”, while another said they had missed their scheduled Eurotunnel crossing to Europe due to the chaos.
Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said: “Once again the Conservatives are squandering public money preparing for a no-deal Brexit which isn’t happening.
“Operation Brock is a plan to manage traffic congestion on the M20 in Kent as a result of either a no-deal Brexit or disruption at the port of Dover or both.
“As far as I can tell, neither of those things have happened so why on earth is the government proceeding with this contingency measure today?
“It’s premature to say the least. “
“Kent’s economy is already highly vulnerable to the government’s cack-handed Brexit preparations. This needless step from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today risks jeopardising that further.”
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, a supporter of the Best for Britain anti-Brexit campaign, said: “This plan highlights the incredible amount of time and money wasted because of Brexit.
“Setting up a 20 mile lorry park in Kent to mitigate the blockages caused by Brexit was never going to be a good idea.
“But kicking off the project before we’ve even left the EU is a truly baffling decision which has clearly backfired.
“With our public services in such a state of disrepair, and an election possibly around the corner, it’s truly remarkable that the government is determined to spend so much on Brexit waste instead of the things the public actually want.”
Highways England said: “Operation Brock is now active, after a short delay this morning. The roadworks needed to complete the activation overran by around 90 minutes. The slip roads were all open at 7.15am, and the mainline M20 reopened just after 7.30am.
“The operation took a bit longer than expected to carry out and complete final checks. It was a complicated operation involving putting out 7,500 traffic cones and 350 signs. We are sorry for any inconvenience from this delay.”
Commenting on the EU’s decision to delay Brexit, Highways England added: “We are keeping the deployment of Operation Brock continually under review and are ready to stand it down if it will not be needed.
“Any decision to de-activate Operation Brock will be taken jointly, and we are in constant contact with the government and our partners in Kent.”
Downing Street said preparations for a no-deal Brexit would continue, but ministers would make decisions today on whether to scale them back after studying the EU’s letter setting out the Article 50 extension.
“We took the actions of responsible government in ensuring that we were ready for all scenarios, and I think you can expect the government to continue to plan, rightly, for all scenarios.”