Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has ruled out another Covid lockdown over Christmas as cases hit a three-month high. He also said measures introduced to tackle supply chain problems mean “Christmas will go ahead”.
However, he also still has no idea how many more HGV drivers have been hired.
The Transport Secretary said there will ‘be no issues’ with seeing loved ones around the festive period this year.
No10 introduced tough restrictions which stopped millions from seeing their families last December, despite PM dismissing the possibility of Christmas being cancelled repeatedly before the move.
Scientists have warned the NHS could be overwhelmed again this winter, with cases reaching 45,066 yesterday, the highest new daily total since July 20.
Shapps told Sky News: ‘With Christmas last year we were worried about being able to see loved ones and families.
‘There will be no issues with that this year.
‘And we’ll make sure that the supply chain is doing what it should be doing, which is what these measures that we’re taking, including this alteration to this cabotage today is designed to do.’
The Cabinet minister claimed steps to ease the flow of goods in the UK “are having an impact”.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced plans to lift the limit on the number of deliveries foreign lorry drivers can make in the UK for up to six months.
Currently, hauliers from the EU can only make up to two trips to drop off or pick up goods between locations in the UK within one week.
Under the DfT proposal, there would be no restriction on the number of those journeys foreign lorry drivers can make over a two-week period before they return to their country of origin.
However, when he was on breakfast TV this morning he still had no clue how many HGV drivers have been hired, key to unlocking the supply chain problems.
Mr Shapps told Times Radio: “Christmas will go ahead. We’ll be able to see our friends and families. There will be food, there will be gifts.
“I do know that the entire world has a squeeze on its supply chain. That’s because we’re all coming out of this very long period of coronavirus, and the UK economy, perhaps particularly because we’ve got an expanding economy, the fastest-growing in the G7, means that there are particular stresses and strains.
“But we’re taking a whole range of measures, including one that I’m announcing today about the way that lorry drivers from abroad pick up and drop things off, the so-called cabotage rules.
“And, under our changes, that will mean that they can, in an unlimited way by Christmas, pick up and drop off goods within this country within a 14-day period.”
Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain, he acknowledged that “maybe a few lines” of goods and food will not be available for the festive period.
But he added: “It’s at that level, rather than, you know, thinking Christmas will have to be cancelled and upsetting children everywhere across the country.”
Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs of the Road Haulage Association, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Government “clearly wants to save Christmas and be seen to be saving Christmas”.
He said “extra drivers will clearly help Christmas deliveries”, but warned that the policy “doesn’t help” UK hauliers who are suffering from “poor roadside facilities” and “ridiculous waiting times to load and unload”.
Other measures previously announced by the Government to tackle the shortage of lorry drivers include increasing the number of driver tests, simplifying the testing process, and creating training opportunities for up to 5,000 new drivers.
Retailers have expressed fears that ongoing supply chain problems will result in higher prices and empty shelves into December.
A build-up of cargo in Felixstowe has led to shipping giant Maersk opting to divert container vessels away from the Suffolk port, while similar logjams have been seen elsewhere in the world, including in the US.