COVID-19: ‘Good progress’ in talks to reopen French border as 2,800 lorries queue in Kent

Travel from the UK to France is set to resume on Wednesday morning – as long as a negative COVID test is provided by those seeking to make journeys – following “good progress” in talks between the two countries.

More than 2,800 lorries have been left trapped in Kent after France shut its border to UK travellers on Sunday night, following fears over the spread of a new coronavirus variant.

France’s transport minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, revealed that flights, ferries and Eurostar services would resume on Wednesday morning.

But he said that “French nationals, people living in France and those with a legitimate reason” to travel would have to provide a negative COVID test before being able to make journeys.

Mr Djebbari thanked his UK counterpart, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, on Twitter for the “amazing work we have done” over the past 48 hours.

A statement from the office of French Prime Minister Jean Castex said that, from midnight, certain categories of people – including French nationals, or British or EU residents usually resident in France or making essential travel – would be authorised to travel across the Channel to France.

Travellers, regardless of their nationality, will be obligated to provide a negative COVID test result – of a sort that detects the new variant – from within 72 hours of their departure.

The arrangement is set to apply until at least 6 January, subject to review.

The statement added that the “specific procedures” for resuming road freight traffic would be “specified in the coming hours”.

In his own Twitter post on Tuesday evening, Mr Shapps wrote: “Good progress today and agreement with the French Government on borders.

“We will provide an update on hauliers later this evening, but hauliers must still NOT travel to Kent this evening.”

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke on Monday, with UK and French officials having worked to reach an agreement to unlock the ban on Tuesday.

The disruption on the South Coast had seen the M20 motorway in Kent closed on Monday night to allow the implementation of Operation Brock.

The action, which involves using a moveable barrier to keep traffic moving on the motorway whenever there is disruption at the Channel, had been prepared for possible Brexit delays early in the New Year, but was called upon early.

More than 600 lorries were queued on the M20 by Tuesday evening, with 2,180 more forced to wait at a former airfield site in Manston, Kent.

Many lorry drivers had spent a second night sleeping in their cabs as they awaited news of a decision on the border.

France was among more than 40 countries around the world to have implemented travel restrictions on the UK due to the mutant variant of coronavirus, which spreads more readily than previous strains.

UK supermarkets had warned of shortages of some fresh fruit and vegetables if the disruption had continued.

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said that while shoppers “need have no concerns about food supplies over Christmas”, the consequences could be felt soon after.

The European Commission had earlier on Tuesday urged member states that have restricted travel from the UK to lift their bans to allow essential travel and minimise trade disruption.

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