Over 1,500 lorries were stuck in the county of Kent on Tuesday morning as Britain’s border with the European Union remained largely closed — far more than Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed there were during his press conference on Monday afternoon.
Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary, this morning told BBC Radio 4 that there were 650 HGVs parked up on the M20 motorway waiting to reach the Port of Dover, and 873 at an airport in Manston which is being used as a lorry park.
However, Johnson yesterday said that the number of HGVs parked on the motorway had been reduced to just 174.
The prime minister’s claim flummoxed British business and logistics groups.
James Withers of Scotland Food & Drink, a trade body representing many businesses whose trade with the EU has been disrupted, said “nothing” he heard from Johnson “bore any resemblance to what we’ve been dealing with & hearing today,” while ITV reported that sources close to the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel were “baffled.”
Highways England shortly before 11pm last night released a statement saying that over 900 lorries were parked on the M20 at that point.
There is chaos at Britain’s borders after Emmanuel Macron’s French government took the drastic step of banning UK travellers — including hauliers transporting goods — from crossing the English Channel to France, in order to contain the spread of a highly-infectious, new variant of the coronavirus discovered in the south of England.
Congestion in Kent is only set to get worse today and could spread beyond the county’s borders, with ITV’s Robert Peston reporting that the Eurotunnel expected 2,000 lorries to arrive in the UK on Tuesday, but none to leave.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Johnson on Monday told Business Insider that the UK government was giving “welfare provisions” including toilet facilities and food & drink to lorry drivers stuck on the motorway.
These images show long queues of HGVs stranded in the county of Kent:
The government says there are 1523 lorries parked on the M20 + at Manston airfield. Several hundred more spent the night in Dover and on the side of the M2. I know this because I passed them on the way home last night. This was Dover seafront. Spare a thought for the poor drivers pic.twitter.com/MFYenRvNqq
— Joel Hills (@ITVJoel) December 22, 2020
— Lukasz (@LukWSM) December 22, 2020
Manston Airport, which is becoming a lorry park for Dover, is where Brexit and UKIP began. The party took control of Thanet council in 2015 – a major foothold – after the airport was shut.
Farage campaigned to reopen Manston. Brexit has kinda done that pic.twitter.com/sye7pooHDY
— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) December 22, 2020
The impact of the border shutdown on UK trade is two-fold: firstly, British exporters to the EU cannot get products to their customers on the continent and secondly, EU trucks bringing goods like food and drink into the UK are not making the journey across the English Channel as they want to avoid being stranded in Britain.
The latter has triggered concerns of potential shortages of certain foods in British supermarkets — specifically perishable fruit and vegetables that the UK imports from the EU in high numbers at this time of year.
Tesco yesterday said that “there may be reduced supply on a few fresh items, such as lettuce, cauliflower and citrus fruit later this week, but we don’t expect any problems with availability on these lines today or tomorrow.” A spokesperson for Sainsbury’s told Business Insider that the supermarket expected to “see gaps over the coming days” on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit.
Ian Wright, CEO of the Food & Drink Federation, this morning said that shortages of “certain fresh foods look likely from next week” unless the border issues were resolved. “The Government is right that 80% of trade is unaccompanied, but roll-on, roll-off, accompanied trucks is by far the preferred mode of transport for fresh food. Around half of all our food is imported at this time of year,” he said.
However, the UK food & drink industry has urged Brits not to panic buy, stressing that supermarkets have built up enough stock to get through the Christmas period without goods running out.
Rachel Reeves, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, called on Johnson’s government to take “decisive action” to unblock the ports, warning that “people’s businesses and livelihoods are at risk here.”
She told Business Insider: “The chaos at our ports has a ripple effect — it impacts on lorry drivers who are stranded and exhausted, on our Great British businesses already under huge strain and trying to export their goods, and on workers trying to resolve the disruption.”