Ships may have to be chartered by the Government to ferry in food and other essential goods if no deal is struck on the terms of Brexit.

The Cabinet was briefed on contingency plans yesterday, the Financial Times reported. They could be necessary if there are customs problems on the Dover-Calais route.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling discussed the prospect both of hiring ships, or securing space in them, to ensure the delivery of food, medicines and other essentials through alternative ports.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We remain confident of reaching an agreement with the EU, but it is only sensible for government and industry to prepare for a range of scenarios.

“We are continuing to work closely with partners on contingency plans to ensure that trade can continue to move as freely as possible between the UK and Europe.”

Separately, the National Audit Office (NAO) warned that if there was no deal, as many as 250,000 businesses might have to fill out customs declarations forms for the first time as Britain adopted World Trade Organization rules.

The NAO said that thousands of UK exporters did not have enough time to prepare for new border rules, the BBC reported.

Criminals could exploit any border weaknesses and queues and delays were likely at border crossings, it said.