Covid chaos: Major disruption at Kent ports after France bans UK arrivals

20 December 2020, 20:28 | Updated: 20 December 2020, 23:52

The UK-France Eurotunnel border will be closing at 11pm tonight
The UK-France Eurotunnel border will be closing at 11pm tonight. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Major disruption is expected at Kent's ports on Monday morning after France banned all UK arrivals through the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel.

The two major ports both announced closures on Sunday evening after France imposed travel restrictions on the UK due to the outbreak of a new coronavirus strain.

Folkestone's Eurotunnel closed for at least 48 hours at 11pm on Sunday night, with the last shuttle departing from Britain for France at 9:34pm.

Shortly after, the Port of Dover announced its ferry terminal would be closed "to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until further notice due to border restrictions in France".

It comes after French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari confirmed the country was suspending all traffic from the UK at midnight for at least 48 hours.

A Eurotunnel Le Shuttle tweet said: "URGENT: UK-France border closes 23:00 GMT tonight. Last shuttle UK-FR is 21:34 GMT, please check in on time.

"Access to UK site prohibited from 22:00 GMT."

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Nations across Europe - including Germany, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands and Bulgaria - have moved to halt inbound flights from the UK in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus mutation that is sweeping through London and the South East of England.

In an astonishing move on Sunday evening, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said people - and in particular hauliers - should avoid travelling to Kent ports.

He said on Twitter: "Following the French Government's announcement it will not accept any passengers arriving from the UK for the next 48hrs, we're asking the public & particularly hauliers not to travel to Kent ports or other routes to France.

"We expect significant disruption in the area.

"My department is urgently working with Highways England and Kent Council on contingency measures to minimise traffic disruption in the area. We will share more details on these shortly."

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Read more: Ireland brings in restrictions for UK travellers over mutant Covid strain

Transport Select Committee chairman Huw Merriman said the situation at the border with France is "very alarming".

The Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle in East Sussex tweeted: "This is very alarming. Christmas supplies are already inside the country so no need for panic but important that we find a way through before transport and ports are completely blockaded.

"Urgent resolution needed with our EU partners before harm ensues."

In a later post on Twitter, Eurotunnel said: "For any passengers heading to the UK: it is essential that you check the rules for travel and accommodation in the UK before travelling.

"Please note, the border is currently closed from the UK into France."

The Port of Dover said on its website: "Both accompanied freight and passenger customers are asked not to travel to the Port. We understand that the restrictions will be in place for 48 hours from midnight (CET).

"We apologise for the inconvenience and will provide an update as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience. For information re ferry shipping please contact your ferry operator.

"Port of Dover Cargo Terminal, Marina and other areas of the Port remain open."

Eurostar later tweeted: "Following the announcement by the French government that the border with the UK will close at midnight tonight, we will only be able to run trains from Paris to London for the 21st-22nd December."

It added on its website: "Due to announcements from the French and Belgian governments that borders with the UK will close at midnight on Sunday 20 December, we are unable to run any trains from London to Paris, Brussels, Lille or Amsterdam on either Monday 21 December or Tuesday 22 December.

"We are also unable to run trains from Amsterdam, Brussels and Lille to London on these dates. We can confirm that our trains will continue to operate from Paris to London.

"The plan is to resume all our train services to and from the UK on Wednesday 23 December.

"We await further details from the relevant governments on how travel restrictions will be enforced and will continue to update our website as further information becomes available."

Responding to Sunday evening's suspension of accompanied freight traffic from the UK to France, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) CEO Ian Wright said: "Tonight's suspension of accompanied freight traffic from the UK to France has the potential to cause serious disruption to UK Christmas fresh food supplies add exports of UK food and drink.

"Continental truckers will not want to travel here if they have a real fear of getting marooned. The Government must very urgently persuade the French government to exempt accompanied freight from its ban.'"

Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, said: "The closure of France to UK traffic, including accompanied freight, poses difficulties for UK capacity to import and export key goods during the busy Christmas period.

"While goods can enter from France, few haulage firms will be willing to send trucks and drivers across to the UK without a guarantee they can return to the EU in a timely manner.

"This is a key supply route for fresh produce at this time of year: the Channel crossings see 10,000 trucks passing daily during peak periods such as in the run-up to Christmas.

"We urge the UK Government and the EU to find a pragmatic solution to this as soon as possible, to prevent disruption for consumers.

"Retailers have stocked up on goods ahead of Christmas which should prevent immediate problems. However, any prolonged closure of the French border would be a problem as the UK enters the final weeks before the transition ends on 31 December."

Late on Sunday, the UK Government warned of "significant disruption" in Kent on Monday.

"We are expecting significant disruption in Kent following the announcement by the French Government that, from 2300 on Sunday 20 December, it will not accept any passengers from the UK for the next 48 hours," a government spokesman said.

"As a result, we are urging everybody - including all hauliers - to avoid travelling to Kent ports until further notice.

"We are working closely with Kent Resilience Forum, Kent Council and Highways England to ensure contingency measures are urgently put in place to manage disruption, and the prime minister will chair a Cobra meeting tomorrow to discuss the situation."

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