Public should not panic about shortages due to freight delays, says Ryan
France and UK reach agreement to reopen English Channel to lorry freight
Freight lorries lined up at the front of the queue on the runway at Manston Airport, Kent, after France imposed a 48-hour ban on entry from the UK. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said Irish people should not panic about shortages of supplies due to the effective closure of the British “landbridge” route between Ireland and mainland Europe.
Mr Ryan said he expected the UK and French governments to agree new sanitary mechanisms to allow road freight transport to resume.
On Tuesday night, French authorities announced that journeys from the UK would be allowed to resume after the 48-hour travel ban was lifted, but those seeking to travel must have a negative test result.
The conditions may do little to ease congestion in Kent caused by the French decision to stop hauliers using the Channel crossing.
British transport secretary Grant Shapps urged lorry drivers not to head to the county in the hope of boarding a ferry or train.
The travel ban was imposed in response to fears about the spread of the more infectious coronavirus strain, which is spreading in the UK. French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebarri said: “Planes, boats and Eurostar trains will resume service as of tomorrow morning. “French nationals, people living in France and those with a legitimate reason will have to be carrying a negative test.” Mr Shapps tweeted: “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.”
Earlier, Mr Ryan said: “People shouldn’t be panicking or shouldn’t be fearful that there are going to be shortages.”
He said that he was confident having talked to the British and French transport ministers that they would resolve “the biggest risk”, which was the “closure, effectively, of the landbridge”.
There was likely to be new sanitary checks and systems introduced for lorries moving between France and Britain, a key transit route for Irish businesses to and from mainland Europe, he said.
He attempted to reassure the public that there were still large ferries continuing to sail to Irish ports from Britain where the State sources much of its distribution for the supply chain, he said.
France’s ban left up to 250 Irish lorry drivers stranded in Britain en route to continental Europe and disrupted supply chains for Irish firms transporting goods to and from mainland EU states.
“We will continue to work with both the UK and French governments to make sure our truckers get home safe and can deliver goods in a way that is safe for them and everyone else,” Mr Ryan told reporters at Government Buildings on Tuesday afternoon.
“Our first priority is maintaining the health of the drivers and making sure that we will get them home or get them out of any difficulties,” he said.
Mr Ryan stressed in his telephone conversations with the French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari that Irish haulage businesses have been able to manage operations safely throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and they were “not a source of transmission.
“That has been the case of the last nine months and I am sure we can continue that – it is a well-protected area,” he said.
The Minister said that ferry companies such as Stena Line and Danish firm DFDS were increasing capacity on direct routes between Ireland and mainland Europe that would help reduce the dependence on the UK landbridge route for Irish importers and exporters.
Mr Ryan confirmed that French shipping company Brittany Ferries, which already operates services between Ireland and mainland Europe, were “offering a range of different services” in response to the transport crisis caused by the new coronavirus mutation detected in Britain.
“There is going to be an increasing capacity. It is a relatively quiet period through Christmas typically so I think we can manage and we can manage into the new year,” he said.
Up to 1,500 lorries, including Irish hauliers, are waiting on motorways, parking areas and lay-bys near ports across the southern English coast due to ferry stoppages caused by the ban.
On Tuesday, the European Commission called on EU member states to drop “blanket travel bans” on people travelling from the UK and to exempt essential transport workers from Covid-19 testing and quarantine but, where they are required, the measures should not disrupt transport.
The travel recommendations from the EU’s executive arm carry no legal force.
France can decide to impose its own restrictions on freight transport from Britain and insist on testing of lorry drivers arriving at French ports from across the English Channel to protect France from the spread of a new, more infectious mutation of the coronavirus.
“Transport staff, within the EU, should be exempted from any travel ban across any border and from testing and quarantine requirements when they are travelling across a border to and from a vessel, vehicle, or aircraft,” the commission said in the recommendations.
“Where a member state, in the specific context of the situation between the EU and the UK and in the coming days, requires rapid antigen tests for transport workers, this should not lead to transport disruptions.”
The commission said that the transit of passengers, especially for essential travel, should be facilitated without quarantine and that authorities should inform travellers in advance if a test is required and offer testing during the journey.
Given the need to ensure essential travel and transit home, any prohibition of transport services, such as flight or train bans, should be discontinued, the commission said.
“Cargo flows need to continue uninterrupted,” the commission said, in accordance with the “green lane” expedited transit for hauliers and transport workers.
The EU’s justice commissioner Didier Reynders said that while precautions were needed to contain the spread of the new virus variant, restrictions should be “co-ordinated and provide for the necessary exemptions for citizens and residents returning home and other essential travellers.” – Additional reporting: PA