Lorry drivers are allowed home

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The Independent Online
Hundreds of stranded lorry drivers were allowed to board ferries to Britain yesterday as the four-day blockade of the port of Calais was briefly lifted. French union representatives said the concession was a "gesture of camaraderie" to the trapped drivers and that the 250 other blockades throughout France would remain in place.

Tension had been running high all afternoon in the port as British, Spanish and Italian drivers, some of whom had been in the blockade since Sunday night, became increasingly frustrated with the dispute. Rumours were circulating that some Spanish drivers were siphoning diesel from British tanks. The Spanish and Portuguese responded by saying that the thermostats on some of their refrigerated lorries had been turned up, and issued an ominous threat to start burning trucks late at night.

The mood changed as soon as the decision was made temporarily to lift the blockade. Ray Hardwicke, from Normanton, West Yorkshire, who was taking a load of extra virgin olive oil from Italy to London, said: "Goodbye France, it's great to be going home. It's really good of the French to let us through, but I expect I'll be caught in another blockade next week."

The Freight Transport Association was less enthusiastic. "It's almost like hostages being released," said a spokesman, Adam Wurf. "If they really have these good intentions, why not allow home the drivers who have been caught up in this for 11 days?"

The lifting of the Calais blockade was of little consolation to the small band of British drivers who had been trapped in the port on their way into France. It soon dawned on them that if they drove off they would be trapped at another picket line, 20km down the road to Paris at St Omer.

Like the estimated 1,000 British drivers who are still stranded in France, negotiations between French unions and management made no progress yesterday. Truckers are demanding a pay rise of up to 23 per cent but employers have offered only one per cent.

The deadlock angered Sir George Young, the Transport Secretary, who has written to Bernard Pons, his French opposite number, stressing the urgent need to secure the release of all British lorries.