Life in the seaside town of Folkestone seemed to be carrying on as normal. The Trawler Race fair was in full swing and the harbour was packed with people enjoying the sunshine.
But the migrant crisis in Calais which has turned the nearby M20 into a giant lorry park was making itself felt nonetheless. At the entrance to the Channel Tunnel rail terminal on the A20, a group of about 30 people from the pro-migrant group Folkestone United was met by counter protests from Britain First and the English Defence League.
The encounter was noisy but largely peaceful, except when a handful of Britain First demonstrators tried to cross a road and were pushed back by police.
The mood was considerably more relaxed at Folkestone harbour, except when the fraught subject of Operation Stack was raised.
“Don’t get me started,” said Janet Taylor of La-La’s Seafood. “We didn’t even open in the week. It wasn’t worth it. It was beautiful down here on Thursday, but people will not come because they don’t want to get stuck in that queue.”
La-La’s, a family-run stall on the harbour front, has been serving local crab, jellied eels and other seafood since the 1950s, but the disruption caused by Operation Stack has had a devastating effect on business. Each day the stall is closed costs them as much as £600 in lost earnings.
Mark Henderson, 47, the owner of a stall selling cider, was just as despondent about the traffic. “If you catch it wrong, you could be sitting at a standstill for four or five hours,” he said. He said both the UK and French governments had been “shirking their responsibilities” and should have taken action sooner.
But he was one of several stallholders who expressed sympathy for the migrants in Calais – controversially described as a “swarm” by the Prime Minister last week. “They are doing it because their backs are against the wall and they are desperate people,” he said. “We cannot send them back to where they have come from. Where’s the humanity in that? I personally feel very sorry for them.”
Damian Collins, the Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe, said that the traffic problems had “definitely had an effect” on the local economy. “I think businesses that rely on people visiting the area have seen a drop-off in custom,” he said. “We have a number of haulage businesses as well that have suffered terribly.”
In pictures: Calais strikes
In pictures: Calais strikes
1/8 Calais strikes
Employees of the MyFerrylink company stage a protest by blocking the A16 highway with a tyre fire in Calais
2/8 Calais strikes
The power struggle between the employees of SeaFrance, owner of the ferry company MyFerrylink, and the owners of the their ships, Eurotunnel, continued with the 2-hour block to the access tunnels under the English Channel by the employees
3/8 Calais strikes
An employee of the MyFerrylink company walks next to the burning tyres
4/8 Calais strikes
Ferry workers block carriageways at the Channel Tunnel junction
5/8 Calais strikes
Employees of the MyFerrylink protest by blocking access to the tunnels under the English Channel
6/8 Calais strikes
Participants of the protest set fire to the tyres
7/8 Calais strikes
Lorries and cars queue on A16 motorway close to the Channel Tunnel terminal access in Calais
8/8 Calais strikes
The Calais ferry workers' dispute had fallen silent during round-table talks between the French government, Eurotunnel and a small local seamen’s union and workers' cooperative
Mr Collins said it would be “fantastic” if the French could be persuaded to compensate those who had lost money, but felt it was unlikely. “I doubt they will unless they are found legally liable,” he said, adding that businesses and trade associations in Kent might want to consider taking France to the European courts to sue for compensation for its failure to keep the borders open and allow free movement of people.
“This is probably the worst-ever summer for Operation Stack,” he said. “We’ve seen the combination of industrial action in Calais ... the migrant crisis and the heavy traffic that we see in the summer.”
In the chic bar of the Rocksalt restaurant, which overlooks the harbour, Jean and Brigitte, a couple from near Paris, were enjoying a coffee while on holiday. Jean, 70, said: “Clearly, it’s a big problem for English people and for French people, too.”
But when asked about the prospect of the French government paying compensation, he said: “It’s not a French problem; it’s a European problem.”Reuse content