Thousands of lorry drivers spend Christmas Day in cabs at Channel border

25 December 2020, 11:05 | Updated: 25 December 2020, 11:12

Thousands of lorry drivers are spending Christmas Day stuck in their cabins at the border
Thousands of lorry drivers are spending Christmas Day stuck in their cabins at the border. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Thousands of lorry drivers are spending Christmas Day in their cabs after being held up at the English Channel border despite its reopening.

Traffic was moving smoothly through the Port of Dover on Friday morning after hundreds of soldiers were deployed in the town as part of a large repatriation effort.

It comes after France temporarily banned UK freight from entering the country due to the emergence of a new, highly-transmissive strain of coronavirus in Britain.

French firefighters have also been drafted in to help the military test drivers for Covid-19 and to ease the disruption in Kent.

After the border reopened on Wednesday, more than 700 hauliers have been cleared for departure, with drivers beeping their horns on Christmas Eve in celebration of the decision.

However, around 5,000 international drivers are still unable to get home despite progress being made in testing efforts at Manston Airport - where drivers are holed up in their cabins - on a closed section of the M20, and in Dover itself.

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Some hauliers have spent nearly a week stranded with their lorries due to the chaos at the border.

Southeastern Railway and Network Rail have arranged for food to be delivered to those stuck as part of Operation Brock on the motorway. Seven trains carrying crates of food for the hauliers have left London in the past 48 hours, with the Salvation Army distributing the items.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "We need to get the situation in Kent, caused by the French Government's sudden imposition of Covid restrictions, resolved as soon as possible.

"I have today sent special instructions to the Army to take control of testing and HGV management operations in the county. Our aim is to get foreign hauliers home with their families as quickly as we can.

"I know it's been hard for many drivers cooped up in their cabs at this precious time of year, but I assure them that we are doing our utmost to get them home."

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The Department for Transport (DfT) said all but three of the 2,367 coronavirus tests issued to hauliers have been negative - a stipulation of travel introduced by French authorities.

More than 300 troops will take charge of testing and lorry marshalling to clear the backlog.

The government said catering vans would provide complementary hot food and drinks to stranded hauliers at Manston, with Kent Council and volunteer groups providing refreshments to those stuck on the M20.

There are more than 250 toilets at Manston, with a further 32 portable toilets added to existing facilities already along the motorway.

A Port of Dover spokesman said ferry services had run throughout Christmas Eve night and would continue on Christmas Day to help ease congestion.

Traffic was moving more quickly at the Eurotunnel, with around 2,000 lorries expected to depart on Thursday.

Disruption at the UK/France border has caused major disruption on Kent's roads
Disruption at the UK/France border has caused major disruption on Kent's roads. Picture: PA

Duncan Buchanan, a policy director at the Road Haulage Association, said: "The most reassuring thing is that food is getting through at Manston, and I have to say a big thank you to everyone who volunteered to help drivers stick it out in cold conditions in the days leading up to Christmas."

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is sending a further 800 personnel to Dover to help clear the backlog of lorries trying to get to France.

Some 300 soldiers were already helping efforts to provide drivers with the coronavirus test needed to show they were clear of Covid-19 before travelling across the Channel.

An MoD spokesman said: "We are deploying a further 800 personnel to Kent today to support an increase in the testing capabilities to help clear the backlog of vehicles and ensure traffic can begin to move at a closer to normal pace through Dover."

The MoD added that "significant progress has been made" to clear the backlog but there was a need for "increased testing as more vehicles continue to arrive every hour".

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