Deal to unblock France travel ban to involve tests for lorry drivers by military

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A deal to unblock travel with France following a shutdown over the new coronavirus variant could come later today, Sky News understands.

The solution would involve lateral flow tests being conducted on lorry drivers with the help of the military.

More than 1,500 hauliers are queuing on the M20 or parked at Kent’s Manston Airport, following France’s decision on Sunday to stop anyone entering from the UK for 48 hours due to a new coronavirus variant.

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A sign informs drivers that the French border crossing is closed at the cordoned entrance to the ferry terminal at the Port of Dover in Kent, south east England on December 22, 2020, after France closed its borders to accompanied freight arriving from the UK due to the rapid spread of a new coronavirus strain. - Britain sought to sound a note of calm saying they were working as fast as possible to unblock trade across the Channel after France shut its borders to UK hauliers in a bid to contain a new variant of the coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Image: France went a step further than most countries and banned freight drivers

Boris Johnson last night urged people not to panic-buy in the days before Christmas and ministers are holding more cross-Channel discussions in a bid to ease the trade flow backlog.

One solution being proposed is mass testing of drivers, but the government is being urged to move quickly given the developing serious situation and the impact it could have on imports.

Food supply chains have been impacted across the UK
Image: Food supply chains have been impacted across the UK

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

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“Impacts on local on-shelf availability of certain fresh foods look likely from next week,” he warned.

Mr Wright said businesses were already suffering severely, explaining: “Lorry loads worth millions of pounds are being spoiled.

SELLINDGE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: The coastguard give out bottles of water as lorries queue on the M20 on December 21, 2020 in Sellindge, England. Citing concern over a new covid-19 variant and England's surge in cases, France temporarily closed its border with the UK late Sunday, halting freight and ferry departures from the port of Dover for 48 hours. France also joined several other European countries in stopping rail and air travel from the UK. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Image: The coastguard was seen handing out bottles of water in the early hours of the morning

“For most, insurance will not cover these losses, which must be compensated.”

On Tuesday, long lines of lorries stretched through the Kent countryside as, despite pleas for drivers to stay away, they waited in hope the border would soon reopen.

Turkish long-haul truck drivers sit down to breakfast at a truck stop off the M20 motorway which leads to the Port of Dover, near Ashford in Kent, south east England on December 22, 2020, as they queue unable to continue their journeys after France closed its borders to accompanied freight arriving from the UK due to the rapid spread of a more-infectious new coronavirus strain. - Britain sought to sound a note of calm saying they were working as fast as possible to unblock trade across the Channel after France shut its borders to UK hauliers in a bid to contain a new variant of the coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Image: Some stranded hauliers ate their food at the side of the road

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps issued another urge for anyone trying to cross the Channel to avoid the area.

“A reminder to all hauliers that the French have not reopened the border to France,” he tweeted.

“Please do not travel to Kent as you will be unable to cross and may become stuck for longer.”

France’s foreign ministry said the 48-hour ban was “an emergency measure to allow us to provide a practical solution and to exchange views with out European partners”, adding they hoped a solution would be “formalised during the day”.

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Drivers were given bottles of water by the coastguard, while some prepared meals and ate breakfast in their cabs or on the side of the road.

Under the ban, unaccompanied freight – mostly in shipping containers – can continue to travel on trains and boats across the Channel, but any goods being driven will have to stay on British soil.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told Sky News “we’re working to get a resolution” and “it’s in both our interests” for France to soften its stance.

A long list of countries have already banned travel by passengers form the UK due to the new COVID-19 variant.

According to the Reuters news agency, Germany is considering keeping that restriction in place until 6 January 2021.

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