Freight hauliers and passengers have been urged by the government to avoid Kent ports after France imposed a blanket ban on arrivals from the UK.
The Port of Dover has halted all exports to France for at least 48 hours, after Emmanuel Macron’s government joined Ireland and a growing list of European countries to impose travel restrictions on the UK over a new, faster-spreading strain of coronavirus.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned of “significant disruption” in Kent, adding: “We’re asking the public & particularly hauliers not to travel to Kent ports or other routes to France.”
French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari also tweeted on Sunday, saying that the country was suspending all traffic from the UK from midnight for at least 48 hours.
The ban also includes all incoming accompanied freight by road, air, sea or rail – which means any movement of goods that requires a person to move it.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said the prime minister must seek an extension to the Brexit transition period because of the potential chaos at the ports.
It’s now imperative that PM seeks an agreement to extend the Brexit transition period,” she tweeted.
“The new Covid strain – & the various implications of it – means we face a profoundly serious situation, & it demands our 100% attention. It would be unconscionable to compound it with Brexit.”
Rod McKenzie, from the Road Haulage Association, told Sky News that 10,000 lorries a day crossed between Dover and Calais in France.
He added: “Brexit stockpiling is one thing, the Christmas rush is another thing, but the absolute hammer blow now is to close the borders for 48 hours.
“That is a serious disruption of the all important supply chain.”
Cross Channel travel chaos. Don’t try to blame the Transport Department. Time for Number Ten and “CDL” to get a grip.
— Sir Roger Gale MP (@SirRogerGale) December 20, 2020
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned the closure of France to UK traffic – including lorries – would create “difficulties for UK imports and exports in the busy Christmas period”.
Andrew Opie, the BRC’s director of food and sustainability, said any “prolonged” disruption would be a problem in the run-up to the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.
“While goods can enter from France, few haulage firms will be willing to send trucks and drivers across to the UK without a guarantee they can return to the EU in a timely manner,” he said.
Logistics UK, formerly the Freight Transport Association, which is based in Tunbridge Wells, tweeted: “Logistics UK is aware of news that accompanied freight to France is being not allowed for 48 hours; we are concerned about the welfare of drivers and we are urgently seeking more information for our members.”
Tory Kent MP Sir Roger Gale urged Number 10 and Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to “get a grip” on the developing situation with the Britain-France border.
He tweeted: “Cross Channel travel chaos. Don’t try to blame the Transport Department. Time for Number Ten and ‘CDL’ to get a grip.”
A government spokesperson echoed Mr Shapps’ statement, saying: “We are expecting significant disruption in Kent following the announcement by the French Government that, from 23.00 on Sunday 20 December, it will not accept any passengers from the UK for the next 48 hours.
“As a result we are urging everybody – including all hauliers – to avoid travelling to Kent ports until further notice.
“We are working closely with Kent Resilience Forum, Kent Council and Highways England to ensure contingency measures are urgently put in place to manage disruption, and the Prime Minister will chair a COBR meeting tomorrow to discuss the situation.”
Sky News understands that “contingency measures” are in place should the disruption last more than 48 hours, therefore potentially impacting the import of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine from Belgium.
Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, announced that it was calling emergency talks later to co-ordinate the response of the bloc’s 27 member states.
Boris Johnson will hold an emergency COBRA meeting on Monday “to discuss the situation regarding international travel, in particular the steady flow of freight into and out of the UK”.