Scuffles erupted in Dover with one man arrested as frustrated hauliers were stopped from reaching France. Tempers flared yesterday as more than 5,000 lorries remained stranded on the M20 and at a Kent airfield. After drivers’ third night in their cabs, many without food or drink, – some tried to push through a cordon. Mass testing of truckers has begun and will be helped by 170 military personnel, including some Irish Guards.
The border did reopen for accompanied freight and some passenger services but the backlog may take days to clear.
Vehicles were allowed through after a breakthrough in talks between the UK and French governments, on condition that everyone travelling from Britain provided a negative coronavirus test taken within the previous 72 hours.
Rail, air and sea services to France resumed after a deal was struck in talks between Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron. The French leader had ordered a 48-hour border closure on Sunday to protect his country against a Covid strain sweeping the south-east of England.
But some government sources believed the ban was revenge for Brexit and for failure to strike a deal with the EU over the UK’s departure. France said it would admit only people travelling for urgent reasons, including hauliers, French citizens and UK citizens with French residency.
All truckers will have to take a lateral flow test for the fresh strain, which gives results in 30 minutes.
Manston Airport’s lorry-holding facility run by the Department for Transport and which is full, will remain the main testing centre. France will also test some UK freight.
Road Haulage Association (RHA) boss Richard Burnett said: “Thousands of truckers stranded in Kent aren’t out of the woods yet. Hundreds…run the risk of not getting home in time for Christmas.”
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said it would take “a couple of days” to clear the queues so drivers should still avoid Kent. Some will have to spend Christmas on the roadside but if they test positive they must isolate in hotels, with the Government paying for ten days.
Officials claimed 3,800 vehicles were at Manston, 20 miles north of Dover, with 1,200 on the M20 but the RHA said up to 10,000 were stuck in Kent last night.
Eric Johnson was waiting for his empty trailer at Dover, so he could return home to Wolverhampton. He spent two nights at the Motis truck stop with colleagues Dave King, 48, and Dean Hammond, 31, after taking machinery parts to Belgium.
He finally left early yesterday but drove less than half a mile in four hours and last night had no idea when he might carry on. Mr Johnson, 50, said: “I just feel so depressed. I keep forgetting what day it is. Luckily I’ve got enough food and water stored up but now the issue is I don’t have a toilet.”
Polish driver Greg Baranski, 39, said: “We have just two food trucks for maybe 2,000 drivers. We are waiting for one hamburger for around two hours. We are all really angry and hungry.”
The deal with France will be reviewed on New Year’s Eve but may run to January 6.