Lorries queue in Dover to cross Channel as Storm Bella delays ferries, while Grant Shapps urges France to ditch testing rule after just 36 Covid cases found from more than 15,000 swabs
- Port of Dover suffered a setback today when freight ferry services were cancelled due to winds of Storm Bella
- Services delayed by up to 50 minutes at the Port of Dover today as a knock-on, but have since been cleared
- It comes after days of disruption following France’s travel ban after the identification of a mutant Covid strain
The Port of Dover suffered more delays today, with a long line of lorries seen queuing on the approach, after Storm Bella forced Channel crossings to be stopped overnight.
After days of disruption following France’s decision to shut its border with the UK, the port suffered another setback overnight when freight ferry services had to be cancelled due to high winds and rough sea conditions.
It comes as workers continue to try to clear a backlog of lorries today, with long queues of lorries still on the M20 in Kent this afternoon.
Much of the backlog has already been cleared, with Manston Airport now empty after a gruelling Covid testing drive over Christmas.
But with more than 15,000 tests carried out up until Boxing Day, and only 36 positive cases, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has now called for France to end its testing demands.
France closed the border with the UK last week after a new mutant strain of Covid-19 was identified in the south east. It agreed to open the border again for drivers who test negative for Covid before they leave.
But speaking to Sky News, the Transport Secretary has hit out at the decision to close the border, calling it ‘rather unnecessary’.
Queues of lorries were today seen on the M20 in Kent as disruption continues today, despite the best efforts of officials attempting to clear the logjam. Pictured: Lorries queue at the Port of Dover today
The delays came as lorries were seen queuing on the M20 today as part of Operation Stack. Pictured: Lorries queue at the Port of Dover today
Mr Shapps said 15,000 lorry drivers had been tested for coronavirus by midday on Boxing Day, and the backlog at the testing site at Manston Airport had cleared. Pictured: Lorries queue on the M20 in Kent today
The Port of Dover suffered more delays today, with a long line of lorries seen queuing on the approach, after Storm Bella forced Channel crossings to be stopped overnight. Pictured: Lorries queue on the M20 today as part of Operation Stack
Freight ferry services had to be cancelled due to high winds and rough seas due to Storm Bella. Pictured: Rough seas at Dover today amid Storm Bella
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has now called for France to end its testing demands. He hit out at France’s decision to close the border, calling it ‘rather unnecessary’
He said: ‘It was very inconvenient for everyone and meant a lot of people missed their Christmases.
‘I think that the whole thing has been rather unnecessary. I don’t think there was a good reason to close the border for more than two days.’
On testing, he added: ‘We know that the EU Commission has said they don’t support this testing at borders for hauliers for one simple reason… [lorry drivers] have a much lower chance of having coronavirus than those in the rest of the population.’
Last night freight ferry services were cancelled after Storm Bella battered the south of England with heavy rain and 70mph gusts.
P&O services were delayed by up to 50 minutes today as workers battled to minimise delays. Services have since returned to normal.
The delays came as lorries were seen queuing on the M20 today as part of Operation Stack.
The emergency travel plan, which eventually saw thousands of lorries parked up on the M20, was put into place after France imposed its travel ban from the UK.
Operation Brock, the UK’s emergency travel plan for a No Deal Brexit, was also activated and saw thousands more lorries sent to Manston Airport in Kent.
But the 4,000 lorries have since been cleared from Manston. Last night, there were still 1,600 drivers waiting to cross The Channel after spending Christmas Day separated from their families in their cabs.
On Christmas Day, 1,100 military personnel were drafted in to help clear the logjams.
The Polish army arrived to aid British armed forces with the testing, despite all lorries being cleared from Operation Brock.
The emergency travel plan, which eventually saw thousands of lorries parked up on the M20, was put into place after France imposed its travel ban from the UK. Pictured: Lorries queue at the Port of Dover today
On Christmas Day, 1,100 military personnel were drafted in to help clear the logjams. The Polish army arrived to aid British armed forces with the testing, despite all lorries being cleared from Operation Brock. Pictured: Lorries queue at the Port of Dover today
But with a huge backlog of lorries, and despite port staff working over Christmas to clear the lorries, thousands of hauliers were forced to spend Christmas Day in their cabs and away from their families
More than 8,000 HGVs have passed over the border via the port or through Eurotunnel since Wednesday when the border reopened, the DfT said. Pictured: A driver is tested as lorries queue at the Port of Dover today
Ferry services across the Channel from Dover today suffered a setback due to high winds brought about by Storm Bella
Drivers are required to prove a negative Covid test (pictured left) taken within 72 hours of leaving for France. Drivers are being tested at the Port of Dover today (pictured right), though officials are advising drivers to take a test before coming to the port
A driver hands over a drink as lorries queue on the M20 motorway as part of Operation Stack following the border block by France
Mr Shapps said 15,000 lorry drivers had been tested for coronavirus by midday on Boxing Day, and the backlog at the testing site at Manston Airport had cleared.
More than 8,000 HGVs have passed over the border via the port or through Eurotunnel since Wednesday when the border reopened, the DfT said.
The havoc began after France introduced a 48-hour travel ban last Sunday following the discovery of a fast-spreading mutant strain in the UK.
The move left thousands of European lorry drivers were left stranded in Kent as UK and French officials attempted to thrash out a deal to reopen the borders.
Both agreed the borders could reopen if drivers were tested before they left the UK.
But a row over testing emerged with the UK preferring lateral flow tests – which can give results in 30 minutes – while France demanded slower PCR tests – which can take up to 30 days to produce a result.
France eventually caved in, following pressure from the EU to reopen the border, and a mass testing drive began, involving NHS staff, the Armed Forces, and a group of 26 French firefighters.
But with a huge backlog of lorries, and despite port staff working over Christmas to clear the lorries, thousands of hauliers were forced to spend Christmas Day in their cabs and away from their families.
Drivers still have to test negative within 72 hours of leaving the UK to France in order to travel. Drivers are currently advised to take a test before arriving at the port in order to avoid delays.
Operation unstack! Dramatic image reveals how 8,000 stranded truck drivers are finally on their way home after ‘incredible’ soldiers sacrificed time with their own families to carry out Covid tests
By Abul Taher for the Daily Mail
British Army troops came to the rescue of thousands of weary truckers this Christmas as stranded drivers finally started to head home after days of being stuck in their cabs on a Kent airfield.
The soldiers sacrificed their own time with their families and loved ones to help more than 8,000 drivers get their vehicles on to ferries heading back to Europe.
As these pictures show, the huge queues at Manston airfield on Christmas Day, right, were cleared by Boxing Day, far right, as troops processed the lorries that became trapped after France suddenly closed its borders last week.
Last night, several angry truckers blamed French President Emmanuel Macron for the delays, with one accusing him of ‘dirty politics’. The French government closed the border between Dover and Calais last Sunday after a new mutant strain of the coronavirus was discovered in London and the South East, feared to be 70 per cent more contagious.
After pressure from the UK, French ministers finally agreed to let truckers leave for Calais provided that they tested negative for the virus.
These pictures show, the huge queues at Manston Airport (left) are almost clear right), as soldiers missed family time to process more than 8,000 lorries that became trapped after France suddenly closed its borders last week
More than 1,100 soldiers joined civilian staff, French firefighters and the Polish military’s Territorial Defence Force to set up a testing system for the virus on Friday.
By last night, some 15,526 tests had been conducted on hauliers and more than 8,000 HGVs had passed over the border. Half of those lorries left after being processed on Christmas Day. However, many hauliers were furious that they failed to make it back home in time for Christmas, and accused Mr Macron of using the news of a new Covid strain as a political stunt as Brexit trade talks entered the final hours.
Mikhal Dometoro, 25, from Bucharest, Romania, had been in the UK for the past three days with his girlfriend, Alexandra, 25, who is also a trucker. The couple, who share the driving, had travelled to Hereford to drop strawberries at a depot.
He told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The Army is good, they are good people. They worked on Christmas Day as well, I am very happy. It’s Macron, it’s dirty politics. I don’t like politics.’
Sauleus Norbetto said he was from a small town called Venta in Lithuania. He had come to drop off chocolate and supermarket food in Manchester.
The 47-year-old, who waited in Kent for four days, said: ‘It’s Macron’s fault. Because of the test, I am here, it’s all politics.
‘I come to UK all the time. Never have I seen anything like this. I have been coming to the UK for 20 years.’
Soldiers sacrificed their own time with their families and loved ones to help more than 8,000 drivers finally get their trucks on to ferries heading back to Europe
Manston airfield, about 20 miles from the Dover port, had become a spillover holding pen for thousands of HGVs parked on its 1.7mile-long runway on Christmas Day. By yesterday it was clear, although HGVs that had put off making the journey over the Christmas period were beginning to queue on the M20.
Craig Mackinlay, Conservative MP for South Thanet, Kent, said: ‘We’ve seen Britain at its best in managing and clearing the unexpected crisis arising from France’s precipitous closure of Channel routes.
‘Credit must go to the Army who, as ever, stepped up to the emergency but also to local councils and Kent emergency services who’ve worked long hours throughout this holiday season.’ Duncan Buchanan, policy director at the Road Haulage Association, said ‘traffic is flowing’ at the Port of Dover but cautioned he expects more lorries to queue again within the coming days.
‘Next week is a normal working week so I would expect the vehicles to increase then too,’ he added. ‘It’s not over yet and we will see what happens next.
‘I want to pass on a thank you to everyone who has helped look after the drivers by giving them food – a lot of people have done a lot of hard work, and it’s really good to see so many people helping.’
Army troops came to the rescue of thousands of weary truckers this Christmas as the stranded drivers finally started to head home after days of being stuck in their cabs on a Kent airfield
Volunteers, including individuals from nearby communities, the Salvation Army, Muslim group Al-Khair Foundation, the Sikh community, HM Coastguard and Kent County Council, have been delivering thousands of warm meals and water to the drivers.
Even British-based truckers who were on holiday, broke off their vacation to come to Kent to donate food to fellow hauliers.
Emil Klatt, 25, from Birmingham, arrived in Kent in a van laden with food and drinks, and was handing out tea, bread, cakes and even non-alcoholic beer to truckers.
He said: ‘It’s Boxing Day, but I saw the queues on the TV and thought to myself, I have to come here and help. I just had to do it.’
Nacor Cue, 30, a trucker from northern Spain was stranded in the UK for five days after dropping a consignment of vegetables to a store in central London.
He said: ‘I was going to be back home for Christmas, but I was here. I had food, but there was no toilet or shower, so it is difficult.
‘I have never seen queues like this in my whole life.
Even British-based truckers who were on holiday, broke off their vacation to come to Kent to donate food to fellow hauliers
‘The Army were very good, they were incredible. They did the test and they gave me two tubs of warm food, I think it was turkey.’
Out of the 15,526 tests administered, just 36 were positive and those drivers are now in isolation for ten days at a Kent hotel. Natalie Elphicke, Tory MP for Dover, said: ‘The Armed Forces did a fantastic job. They were pivotal in keeping Dover clear with their Covid testing and ensuring the flow of traffic.
‘But it has been a combined effort with the police and the national testing teams, which made sure that the queues ended.’
She added: ‘We were faced with the problem due to the unreasonable French behaviour in closing down the border.
‘I hope the Armed Forces and others manage to keep Dover clear in the coming days as the border remains closed.’
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