Lorry drivers unable to leave UK given fines as they wait in laybys

Drivers were forced to sleep in their vehicles outside the Port of Dover last night while almost 1,000 lorries queued to be allowed out of the UK.

Chaos ensued as some drivers were issued fines, others blasted their horns towards the Port in frustration, and another crashed into a car as it struggled to get into a lorry park.

France closed its border with Britain over the weekend, to everyone including hauliers, due to the spread of a mutant strain of coronavirus.

Although talks between the countries are ongoing to reopen trade and transport across the Channel, a decision is not expected to be made by France until later today.

Meanwhile Highways England closed 18 miles of the M20 between Maidstone and Ashford overnight and installed a movable barrier installed on the London-bound carriageway of the motorway.

It comes after Boris Johnson said at a Downing Street press conference yesterday the number of lorries waiting on the M20 had been reduced from 500 to 170.

But Highways England later said Kent Police had told them there were 900 lorries parked on the motorway as of 6pm last night.

The Prime Minister added France and the UK were working together ‘to unblock the flow of trade as fast as possible’.

The Telegraph reports ministers are drawing up contingency plans to test all lorry drivers leaving the UK to bring an end to the disruption.

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, told a Cabinet meeting by video yesterday: ‘We are looking at systematic testing upon arrival.’

Mr Johnson said he believed the risk of freight drivers passing on the new and highly infectious strain of coronavirus was very low.

‘I want to stress that we in the UK fully understand the anxieties of our friends about Covid, their anxieties about the new variant,’ he told the press conference.

‘But it’s also true that we believe the risks of transmission by a solitary driver sitting alone in the cab are really very low, and so we hope to make progress as fast as we possibly can.’

The Labour Party yesterday urged the Government to use spare capacity in the Covid-19 testing system for drivers if President Macron would not back down and allow trade to resume without negative results.

But there are fears truckers may not make it back to the continent in time for Christmas if they have to wait for test results.

Emergency services, Kent County Council and charities have been handing out water and snacks to stranded drivers as delays continue.

Stanislaw Olbrich was among those 200 drivers stranded in Kent, but is worried about whether he’ll be able to see his wife and three children in Poland on Christmas Day. 

‘I take freight to Britain and I can’t go back home because of [the] stupid virus. But I don’t know if it is the virus – I think it’s politics,’ the 55-year-old told Reuters news agency.

‘It’s very difficult for me because I am away. My chances of going home for Christmas are going down. It’s stupid and I am nervous and unhappy about that.’

‘They need me to come for Christmas – it is a very special holiday in Poland. For Polish people it is very hard to be away at Christmas.’

Lorry driver Eric Johnson said hauliers are running out of options in the chaos.

The 50-year-old from Birmingham said: ‘Apparently all the laybys nearby are booked up and the truck stops are basically full too. For a lot of us getting here later on, there’s nowhere else to go.’ 

Folkestone and Hythe Council confirmed some 15 lorry drivers were given fines after parking in the wrong places overnight, despite it being dubbed ‘an insult to injury’.

A council spokesperson said: ‘There are official lorry parks which should be used by drivers rather than coming off the designated routes and parking illegally in areas that were never designed for such use.

‘Whilst the current situation might seem unusual, local residents have endured unpleasant impacts whenever there is cross channel disruption. 

‘We’ve been informed that there is plenty of space in the official areas designated for lorries waiting to cross the channel and clear signage is in place to direct drivers to these.’

It is feared the port closure could have far-reaching consequences for British businesses, with Scottish fishing firms set to lose more than £6 million as more than 100 lorries filled with perishable salmon are affected.

Sainsbury’s also warned shoppers yesterday that if the delays continue, the chain could run out of some food items in store.

The supermarket said, although all products needed for Christmas are already in the UK, customers may start to see ‘gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit’.

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