Four ferry firms have landed government contracts worth a total of £77.6m to provide post-Brexit freight capacity.
Brittany Ferries, DFDS, P&O Ferries and Stena Line will have the job of ensuring medical supplies and other vital goods continue to get to the UK.
The government says it wants a smooth flow of freight “whatever the outcome of negotiations with the EU”,
The contracts will be in place for up to six months after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.
The additional capacity will be on quieter ferry routes between mainland Europe and UK ports in Felixstowe, Harwich, Hull, Newhaven, Poole, Portsmouth, Teesport and Tilbury.
Last year, the government paid ferry companies £87m for similar contracts, which were not needed in the end because Brexit was postponed.
One of last year’s contracts, worth £13.8m, was paid to Seaborne Freight, a company which had never run a ferry service. Seaborne Freight recently went bust.
The transport secretary at the time, Chris Grayling, faced calls to resign over the Seaborne debacle.
His successor, Grant Shapps, said: “As the transition period comes to an end, we are putting the necessary measures in place to safeguard the smooth and successful flow of freight.
“Securing these contracts ensures that irrespective of the outcome of the negotiations, life-saving medical supplies and other critical goods can continue to enter the UK from the moment we leave the EU.”