Lorry drivers clash with police at Dover

French firefighters sent to Dover with 10,000 Covid tests for stranded lorry drivers

Emergency workers sent across border to help clear backlog – as French ambassador says two countries remain ‘friends’

Adam Forrest@adamtomforrest
Thursday 24 December 2020 08:56
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A team of French firefighters has been sent to the UK port town of Dover with coronavirus tests for lorry drivers who continue their long wait to cross the English Channel.

France has demanded a negative test from drivers seeking to cross to the continent, but the British authorities have struggled to roll out testing quickly to the 6,000 hauliers who remain stuck at sites across Kent.

The French ambassador to the UK Catherine Colonna said 26 firefighters brought 10,000 Covid-19 tests to the port town to allow more hauliers make the crossing before Christmas.  

Despite criticism over French president Emmanuel Macron’s decision to close the border earlier this week due to fears over the new Covid variant, Ms Colonna said the two countries were “neighbours, partners, allies and (yes) friends”.

The transport secretary Grant Shapps has called for “patience” from thousands of lorry drivers stranded outside the Port of Dover following the French travel ban, and said the disruption would take “a matter of days” to resolve.

More than 6,000 heavy goods vehicles are being held in Kent, with some forced to endure a fourth night in their cabs since the border was temporarily shut on Sunday night. Trucks began entering the Eurotunnel again on Wednesday – but it is feared it could take several days to carry out tests on the hauliers.

It comes after some drivers clashed with police in Dover on Wednesday, while others protested by blocking roads near the lorry holding site at Manston Airport, where there have been complaints over a lack of food and toilets.

Mr Shapps said on Thursday morning the UK has agreed with France to keep the border between the countries open “throughout Christmas”.

The minister said on Twitter: “As testing in Kent continues (latest figures and outcomes soon), I’ve spoken to my French counterpart Jean-Baptiste Djebbari and we’ve agreed the UK-French border at Eurotunnel, Dover and Calais will remain open throughout Christmas in order to help hauliers and citizens return home as soon as possible.”

Adina Valean, the EU’s transport commissioner, said she was pleased stranded trucks are now moving “slowly across the Channel” after Covid restrictions between France and the UK were lifted.

Drivers scuffle with police at Dover

She criticised the decision made by Mr Macron’s government on Sunday. “I deplore that France went against our recommendations and brought us back to the situation we were in in March when the supply chains were interrupted,” Ms Valean tweeted.

Kent Council leader Roger Gough told Sky News tensions between police and drivers had calmed down but added the situation remained “quite fragile”, adding that added he expected the number of lorries entering the Eurotunnel to “pick up” rapidly.

All truck drivers, regardless of nationality, will be required to take a lateral flow test which can detect the new strain of Covid-19 and return results in about 30 minutes, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) said. Hauliers have been urged not to travel to Kent until further notice.

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