EU censures France over England port chaos

The EU's transport commissioner has said she "deplores" Paris' decision to ban freight arrivals from the UK due to the new coronavirus variant. Truck drivers say huge queues at the Port of Dover are barely moving. The European Union's transport commissioner has issued an unusually strong public rebuke of France for the banning of freight from the UK that prevented thousands of trucks from crossing the English Channel.

"I deplore that France went against our recommendations and brought us back to the situation we were in March when the supply chains were interrupted,'' Transport Commissioner Adina Valean tweeted. Valean added that she hoped: "Member States respond quickly to our request to relax the driving and rest times rules and, specifically, not to apply holiday driving bans, to allow drivers to get back to their families for Christmas." Her remarks follow revelations that, after having reopened its borders on Wednesday, France will close the arrival port of Calais as usual over the Christmas holidays.

France doubles down

On Sunday and Monday, dozens of countries began banning flights from the UK due to the discovery of a new coronavirus variant that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said was up to 70% more contagious.

However, France went much further and banned freight arrivals, which effectively closed port and Channel Tunnel traffic for two days. The decision led to long queues of trucks waiting to cross from the UK side of the English Channel and caused great public anxiety, since Britain relies heavily on its cross-Channel commercial links to the continent for food at this time of year, especially fresh fruit and vegetables. France, however, defended its handling of the border situation.

The secretary of state for European affairs, Clement Beaune, tweeted that France had "exactly followed the EU recommendation" and is once again "more open than other European countries" to arrivals from Britain. The European Commission advised member states on Tuesday to drop the blanket ban, and France agreed to allow drivers into the country if they provided a negative COVID-19 test result. But Brussels had suggested exempting transport workers from this restriction.

Thousands still stuck

France reopened its borders to the UK on Wednesday.

But on Christmas Eve, most drivers remained trapped in mass gridlock on a highway towards Dover, the British port which is closest to the French mainland. One driver described the conditions as "disgusting" while another said: "We have no food, we have no water, and we don't know when we can get home." One by one, trucks moved toward ferries and trains that link the two countries, as authorities checked that drivers had the negative COVID tests now required to cross.

Officials have warned the backlog could take days to clear. One UK road haulage expert estimated there could be up to 10,000 trucks caught up in the chaos, waiting to enter France. UK Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News that around 4,000 trucks were stranded in the area close to the Channel.

mm, jsi/stb (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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