Frustration mounts over trucking ‘carnage’ as France reopens UK border

Diplomats are struggling to reach EU citizens caught up in the blockade at the Port of Dover. Thousands of truck drivers are being held at an airfield awaiting coronavirus tests to allow them to cross into France, after the British and French governments reached an agreement late Tuesday to reopen the border. Dover is one of the U.K.'s busiest ports and a major artery for fresh food into the country.

France enforced a days-long block on traffic from the U.K. after a new variant of the COVID-19 virus was detected in Britain. Kent, the region which contains the port of Dover, is one of the worst-hit areas of the country, in part due to this new variant being more contagious. France is again allowing essential workers like drivers into the country, but they must first show a negative COVID test taken during the previous 72 hours.

The German Ambassador to the U.K. Andreas Michaelis, tweeted that he was unable to check on the welfare of his country's citizens held at Manston airfield while they wait for tests. He said: "Went to Manston Airport today.

Scheduled to meet up with German truck drivers. Last stretch difficult. Could not reach the airfield.

Could only speak to them on the phone. Still very difficult situation for them. Too little information." 

An official from a Central European country said they were also struggling to reach drivers caught up in the "carnage." The disruption comes at a very difficult time for the U.K. government, with Brexit negotiations going right to the wire. Trade experts have long warned of holdups at the border if U.K. and EU negotiators fail to strike a deal governing future trade relations once the transition period ends on December 31.

The U.K. government has already triggered plans put in place to manage possible Brexit disruption in an attempt to manage the backlog. Logistics industry experts also warn this week's border chaos could make preparations harder for businesses that planned to ship extra stock in anticipation of Brexit disruption at the end of the transition period. In the three days since France imposed the travel ban, concern has also grown for the lorry drivers' welfare.

Two drivers, one from Romania and another from Poland, said that they had faced long lines for portaloos in pouring rain last night and that there were too few showers for the number of drivers. The situation has also grown increasingly heated, as some drivers grow frustrated at a lack of information and support.  Eyewitnesses reported scuffles between drivers and police and one man was arrested for obstructing a highway in Dover, according to a statement from Kent Police.

"These guys are [driving to the U.K.] for our country, bringing food for us and they're being treated like animals," said one eyewitness, Drew Cress, who owns a construction firm in Kent. A 10-minute journey to pick up building materials took him more than two hours, he added. Cress reported seeing "2-300 lorry drivers hurling stones, cones and bricks."

There is no clear timeline for how long it will take to test drivers for COVID-19 and clear the thousands of trucks parked in Kent seeking to travel to France. Want more analysis from POLITICO? POLITICO Pro is our premium intelligence service for professionals. From financial services to trade, technology, cybersecurity and more, Pro delivers real time intelligence, deep insight and breaking scoops you need to keep one step ahead.

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