Nearly 1,500 lorries are still stuck in Kent after France shut its borders to the UK, in a bid to stop the spread of a highly-transmissible new strain of coronavirus.
Boris Johnson, the prime minister, had claimed at a Downing Street press conference on Monday that there were just 170 lorries stranded on the motorway.
That was quickly discredited by Highways England – which said that Kent Police had revealed there were 900 lorries parked on the motorway as of 6pm on Monday night, under an hour after Johnson’s press conference began.
“It’s vital first to stress that these delays which are currently affecting Dover only affect 20 per cent of total arriving or departing to the European continent,” Johnson said, “which means the vast majority of food, medicines and other supplies are coming and going as normal.”
But the prime minister did not mention that the Eurotunnel is also closed – meaning a significantly higher proportion of supplies coming from Europe is impacted.
Home Secretary Priti Patel this morning confirmed on Tuesday morning that 650 lorries are still stuck on the M20 – while a further 800 are parked up elsewhere, with drivers facing a third night sleeping in their cabs.
“These numbers fluctuate all the time and we know lorries are travelling around the country and then they’re coming back to Dover,” Patel said.
“But also, right now, we have Operation Stack underway which basically is a contraflow system to move lorries away from queuing and take them to Manston where we have facilities for them and welfare sites in particular.”
Crisis talks with France will continue in an effort to resume trade flows across the Channel amid warnings that the border must be running again by Wednesday to avoid disruption to food supplies.
More than 40 countries have banned flights from the UK due to a mutant variant of coronavirus spreading through the country, but it is the French decision to also ban hauliers which has caused the greatest concern.
A possible solution could be mass testing of HGV drivers, while the BBC reported that plans to reopen the border will come into effect from Wednesday, citing French Europe Minister Clement Beaune.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said the “borders really need to be running pretty much freely from tomorrow to assure us that there won’t be any disruption”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is a problem potentially directly after Christmas and that is really in fresh produce, so we’re talking here about things like salad, vegetables, fresh fruit, of which the vast majority come from Europe at this time.”
The main problem was empty lorries stuck in Kent unable to head over to the continent to reload with fresh supplies, he said.