Jeremy Hunt says the UK government is “completely committed” to keeping oil flowing across the English Channel as the price of crude rose to a nine-month high.
Image copyright Reuters Image caption Oil services have already returned to eastern ports like Dover, where nearly half of the traffic over the Channel is made up of tankers
Cars and household fuel engines won’t run out because of the breakdown in negotiations, the Transport Secretary said.
“What we are absolutely determined to do is ensure oil supplies through the network continue,” Mr Hunt said.
He said he was “very sad” that the row between Britain and France over border controls had led to tankers being stopped.
“I won’t get into the horse race on whether that should be a sticking point to a deal or not, because I want to see the deal,” he said.
“But there are important economic benefits which are being protected by the fact that we have arranged for oil to flow through the network, which at the moment is staying open.”
And he insisted the government had made contingency plans to deal with a no-deal Brexit.
“We have put money into the tankers in order to protect us from disruption from tankers, so that if and when there is gridlock there will be additional capacity available,” he said.
Image copyright AFP Image caption French and British negotiators met again on Thursday to negotiate no-deal Brexit arrangements
High fuel prices
The fuel price regulator said pump prices were likely to climb by 1.6p a litre on average in the week before Friday’s crucial customs vote in the House of Commons.
The prospect of higher oil prices and uncertainty over the status of the Channel terminal have been blamed for increasing concerns about the cost of living, and Mr Hunt told the BBC Today programme that “sadly” there was cause for the price of fuel to rise.
“The reason why we have seen oil prices go up in recent weeks and this current economic forecast by the International Monetary Fund of a slow down in growth over the next few months in the eurozone is also a consequence of that,” he said.
“The pricing of petrol and diesel is conducted in the market place, and the system is geared to meet that demand.”
Mr Hunt acknowledged that Britain had relied on oil imports from France since the second world war, and said: “It’s not just crucial that oil flows through the network, but it’s also important that we take the steps to ensure that people can access the fuel that they want to buy.
“This government is completely committed to ensuring that the fuel supplies stay in place.”
Image copyright Reuters Image caption The Channel crossings are the UK’s busiest transport artery
A six-week strike by French drivers in March led to a plunge in traffic at French ports including the main southern port of Antwerp.
Some 17 lorries a minute were backed up on the road and rail link between Antwerp and Calais in late February.
France had since allowed only two extra lorry drivers to operate through Dover after cross-Channel drivers of the Carillion firm took a 48-hour strike in protest at a newly announced reduction in road access.
The transport secretary also warned that Britain would have to look “very carefully” at its position on when to leave the customs union.
“We haven’t reached a decision that is final yet,” he said.
“We want an agreement which allows us to strike trade deals in the future. If not, we may have to look very carefully at our position.”