Housing Secretary tells LBC Kent lorry jam will be cleared 'in a couple of days'

23 December 2020, 08:16 | Updated: 23 December 2020, 08:56

By Asher McShane

The army will be deployed to assist with the logistics of testing lorry drivers stuck in Kent but the backlog will take "a couple of days" to clear, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told LBC this morning.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC at breakfast, Mr Jenrick said: "Traffic will start to flow this morning, it will take a couple of days to work this through because there is a significant backlog now.

“The armed forces will be helping us to put in place procedures over the course of the day so there will be a testing regime at Manston airport and other locations within Kent.

READ MORE: Lorries to start moving across UK-France border under new Covid testing agreement

“The planning that has been done over three years now ahead of the end of the transition period has been helpful.

“We’ve actually been relatively well prepared but I hope this situation. will be resolved within the next couple of days.”

But the Road Haulage Association (RHA) warned today that imposing a coronavirus testing regime on lorry drivers crossing the English Channel "still means we will have delays at the border" and that UK supply chains will be hit.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said rapid lateral flow tests - which can give results in about 30 minutes - will be used to test HGV drivers at the ports in a deal to reopen the border between France and the UK.

The French authorities will be carrying out similar testing on hauliers entering the UK in a programme that is set to get under way on Wednesday.

The RHA estimates between 8,000 and 10,000 delayed lorries are now in Kent and its surrounding areas, in truck stops and at depots waiting for borders to reopen and to cross the Channel.

A spokesman added: "Even if the border is opened up, a short delay in the process is going to mean huge delays in the supply chain."

Chief executive Richard Burnett said: "There are many serious implications to this latest situation, even lateral flow Covid testing will have a massive impact on the supply chain."

The welfare of the drivers is also an issue, with Mr Burnett saying: "What happens to them? How is it all going to play out? Are they going to be tested on site or are they going to have to go somewhere else to do it?"

Mr Burnett also questioned what would happen to the drivers who test positive.

"They will be unfit to drive but where will they go?," he added. "They will be unable to quarantine with their families in Europe and what will happen to their vehicles?

"Who will be responsible for the deep cleaning of their cabs? And for those carrying return loads, what will happen to their cargo? This is going to be an extremely expensive exercise."

It is expected the Department for Transport will set out the full details of the testing programme on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced a temporary relaxation of drivers' hours for hauliers - increasing the driving limit of nine hours to 11 - to help them get through UK borders safely over the coming weeks.