Furious truck drivers stranded at the English port of Dover fought with police as Britain tried to get traffic across the canal after a partial blockade by France to contain a highly contagious variant of coronavirus.
After turning parts of the south of England into a large truck parking lot by closing the border for incoming goods, France opened its border on Wednesday to truck drivers who have a negative Covid-19 test that is less than 72 hours old.
But on the ground at the port of Dover – for centuries one of the most important arteries for trade with the rest of Europe – there was no sign of any testing – or much other support for stranded drivers.
“They are talking about a Covid test but there are no Covid tests,” Blazej Pankiewicz, a truck from Torun, Poland, told Reuters in Dover, surrounded by angry drivers.
Pankiewicz said he was extremely sad that he missed Christmas at home with his family who had already gathered.
Large queues of trucks remain stacked on a motorway towards the Eurotunnel Channel Tunnel and on roads to Dover, while others have been parked at the former nearby Manston Airport.
Storms began to erupt among drivers, many from Eastern Europe who do not speak English and are angry that they cannot get home to their families before Christmas.
Some drivers collided with the police and left their horns in protest around the harbor. Many have eaten through their last provisions on the roads while their families gather for Christmas thousands of miles away.
Police said there had been disturbances in Dover and Manston “involving individuals hoping to cross the canal” and an arrest had been made.
“This is not how it should work. We have no information, the people need to get information,” Mekki Coskun from Dortmund in Germany told Reuters.
The British government has prepared the military to help but there was confusion among drivers as to how to get tests and warnings it would take time to clear the backlog of trucks.
“Testing has begun when we look to move traffic between the UK and France again,” said Transport Minister Grant Shapps.
“However, the French border police are only acting by agreement from this morning and serious delays will continue. Avoid Kent while the backlog is cleared. Getting to the area will delay your trip, he said on Twitter.
The testing has started when we make sure to get the traffic moving again between the UK and France.
However, the French border police are acting only by agreement from this morning and serious delays continue. AVOID Kent when the backlog is cleared. Getting to the area will delay your trip.
– Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) December 23, 2020
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he had been in contact with British Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron about the jam.
“This can be done differently. The whole process could have been better organized,” he said. The Road Haulage Association, which estimated that there were up to 10,000 trucks parked in Kent, said it was chaotic.
“The border is still closed, the test regime is not happening yet, you have got truck drivers very angry and we are starting to see a division in law and order in a small way among very frustrated guys who want to come back with Christmas,” says Rod McKenzie, CEO of RHA.
Normally between 7500-8500 trucks travel through the port every day but the volumes have reached more than 10,000 recently. Getlink, the operator of the Channel Tunnel, said only 45 trucks had reached France between midnight and 11:00 GMT.
Further Brexit disruptions
Part of the extra traffic was a result of demand for Christmas, but many were in the country to deliver goods to companies that store parts before Britain finally leaves the EU on 31 December, a measure that is expected to cause further disruption in January when full tariff limits enters into force.
The British Retail Consortium, a lobby group in the industry, warned that until the demand for trucks was cleared and the supply chains returned to normal, there could be problems with the supply of certain fresh goods.
Logistics companies have also said that many European drivers had already refused to come to the UK in the new year when they would have to carry paperwork, and the need to secure a coronavirus test will further aggravate the situation and push up freight rates.
Drivers first take a quick lateral flow test. Anyone who registers a positive result will take a more comprehensive PCR test, which takes longer to secure a result, and everyone who tests positive again will have a hotel room isolated.
Many of the most European drivers, many stranded with their trucks and without access to hot food or bathrooms, believe they are farmers in a political shutdown between Britain and the EU when trade talks reach a climax.
“We have no food to eat, we do not drink, we have nothing, no one … cares about us,” said Stella Vradzheva, a driver from Sterlcha in Bulgaria.
( Jowharwith REUTERS)