THE UK’s transport chief has hit back at claims the M3 could be closed and turned into a lorry park for the port of Portsmouth if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Chris Grayling, secretary of state for transport, says the reports concerning a stretch of the southbound motorway between Winchester and Basingstoke are “wholly false”.

It comes after Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said after a visit to Portsmouth’s port that a 20-mile stretch could be closed to cope with backed-up lorries in the case of a no-deal.

In a letter to Winchester’s MP, Steve Brine, Mr Grayling hit back at the reports.

He said: “It is possible that there could be some freight traffic disruption in Kent in the event of a no-deal, if additional customs checks were introduced in Calais, Coquelles and Dunkirk, where freight services disembark. In the past the M20 has been closed under Operation STACK, as a way of handling freight traffic queues resulting from disruption to Dover-Calais or Channel Tunnel services.

“The situation at other ports is very different. Even if there were to be some redistribution of freight traffic from the Dover Strait we do not expect significant delays resulting from border checks at other EU ports to be a major issue.

“Highways England’s core task is, and will remain, to keep the road network operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. We therefore have no plans whatsoever to close the M3 or any other roads outside Kent in a no-deal scenario.

“We do not think this would be needed and if there is any disruption there are better ways of dealing with this than by closing strategic roads.”

However, Portsmouth MP Stephen Morgan slammed Mr Grayling’s response, saying: “95% of the fresh produce in the Channel Islands comes via Portsmouth International Port. Any delay exporting to Guernsey and Jersey under a no-deal would cause traffic chaos here, and empty shelves within 48 hours over there.

“At a time of uncertainty for our city and country the Transport Secretary just doesn’t get it. It’s time the Government engages with us in Portsmouth and listens to our legitimate concerns.”

As previously reported, port director Mike Sellers said the distance from the freight gates to the motorway network was only 13 lorry lengths, and the introduction of any delays on to ferries could lead to lorries backing up on to the motorways.

He said attempts to use nearby land as a lorry park and processing area had been thwarted because the MoD refused to release the land, while another site 20 minutes away had been located but did not have the required infrastructure.

Mr Sellers also said the customs infrastructure required would not be in place by the end of March.

A Highways England spokesman denied there were any plans to use the M3 as a lorry park.