The British government wants to develop ports on the east coast of Britain so that the Port of Calais can be bypassed in the event of serious delays arising from the impact of Brexit.

As firms warn that they will not be ready for the additional border checks that a Canada-style Brexit could bring at the end of this year, the British government has tasked officials with looking at how ports such as Harwich and Felixstowe could take on more roll-on roll-off trade.

Currently Dover handles much larger quantities of this kind of trade than other ports, dealing with up to 10,000 trucks a day.

However if the government opts for a Canada-style trade deal, requiring customs checks at borders, then severe queues could result at both sides of the channel.

To avoid this scenario the government wants other ports to be ready to take on more roll-on roll-off trade.

Ministers are also concerned at the possibility of industrial action at the Port of Calais and want to be able to bypass France in favour of Belgium and the Netherlands.

A government official told the Financial Times this week: “We want to see all our ports play their part. This is partly related to Brexit and partly to cornavirus.”

Harwich MP Bernard Jenkin said: “In the event we have to manage social distancing at Dover-Calais, so reducing capacity, we have tonnes of spare capacity at Harwich.”