Thousands of trucks were expected to be parked on English motorways on Monday morning after France took the emergency step of restricting travel from the UK for at least 48 hours.
French President Emmanuel Macron has shut down large parts of the English Channel crossing in an attempt to contain a new coronavirus strain that is spreading in England’s southeast.
Truck drivers carrying millions of dollars’ worth of exports are not allowed to enter the European Union.
The ban is also expected to deter drivers from bringing goods into the UK, industry groups have warned, risking food shortages in Britain in the run-up to Christmas.
The chaos comes just 10 days before the end of the Brexit transition period, when new checks on trade with the EU were already in danger of causing significant disruption at Britain’s ports.
There was chaos at Britain’s most vital trading route on Monday after France took the emergency step of restricting travel – including trade – from the UK for at least 48 hours in response to the outbreak of a new coronavirus strain in southeastern England.
Over a dozen European Union member states as well as other countries including Canada and Turkey have imposed restrictions on British travelers in a frantic attempt to contain the new strain of the virus, which UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government estimates to be about 70% more transmissible than the first strain.
French President Emmanuel Macron went further Sunday, with France barring UK travelers and shutting down the Eurotunnel crossing for at least 48 hours, meaning thousands of trucks carrying goods to the continent will not be able to cross the English Channel.
While the French ban applies to accompanied inbound freight, the logistics industry has warned that many European truckers carrying everyday items like food and drink will not make the journey to Britain if they cannot return quickly.
Ian Wright, the CEO of the UK Food & Drink Federation, warned on Sunday evening that the ban had “the potential to cause serious disruption to UK Christmas fresh food supplies” as “truckers will not want to travel here if they have a real fear of getting marooned.”
Despite the risk to UK food supplies, Logistics UK’s Alex Veitch urged Brits not to panic-buy goods, saying in a statement: “Shoppers should not panic buy – retailers will be making every effort to ensure there is stock within the system, including fresh produce.” The British Retail Consortium’s Andrew Opie said retailers had already stockpiled goods in anticipation of Brexit, perhaps stemming most immediate issues.
UK transport Secretary Grant Shapps acknowledged on Monday morning, however, that the threat to food supplies would grow if the French ban on UK arrivals exceeded 48 hours, telling BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program that it “depends on how long things go on.” Sainsbury’s on Monday morning warned that perishable food imports like citrus fruit, cauliflower, broccoli, and lettuce would start to run out if the ban went beyond 48 hours.
Chaos at Britain’s borders comes just 10 days before the end of the Brexit transition period, when new checks on goods coming in and from the EU are expected to create delays at Britain’s ports and, possibly, shortages.
Johnson was set to chair an emergency COBRA meeting of senior government ministers and security officials on Monday morning as the south of England braced itself for high levels of traffic in the county of Kent.
A UK government representative on Sunday night said “we are expecting significant disruption in Kent,” where the major ports of Dover and Felixstowe are located. “As a result, we are urging everybody – including all hauliers – to avoid traveling to Kent ports until further notice,” the person said.
Truck drivers are being urged to avoid roll-on, roll-off routes to France and either delay or reroute exports to the continent. A spokesperson for ferry company Stena Line told Business Insider that it is adding an extra ship to its Ireland to France route from Tuesday to respond to exploding demand from exporters trying to reach the EU.
James Withers of Scotland Food and Drink tweeted that “millions of pounds worth” of exports risked being destroyed if they didn’t reach customers in Europe on time.
The ban on hauliers entering France from the UK is set to affect around 6,000 lorries on Monday, which is around 20% the total number expected to make the journey, Transport Secretary Shapps told BBC Radio 4 this morning.
Affected lorries are set to form long queues on England’s motorway this morning, prompting authorities in Kent to activate the “Operation Stack” traffic-management system. There were concerns on Sunday night over where the thousands of affected lorry drivers would spend the night, as the Ashford lorry park being developed for Brexit is not yet ready for use.
Roger Gough, leader of Kent County Council, on Monday morning told Times Radio: “Everything that government can do to reinforce that message and to ensure that we don’t get more vehicles coming into Kent the better.”
Rachel Reeves, the Labour Party’s Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, urged Prime Minister Johnson to “urgently explain what he is doing to get a grip on the situation.”
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