Johnson hopeful freight movements will return to normal after talking to Macron

Lorries stuck at Dover, and supermarket chain warns there could be a shortage of fruit and vegetables if travel ban continues

Boris Johnson has said he hopes freight movements across the English Channel will soon return to normal after he discussed with President Emmanuel Macron the French ban on hauliers entering from Britain.

More than 40 countries have banned flights arriving from Britain because of concerns about a new variant of coronavirus that appears to have spread quickly throughout the southeast of England.

Lorries have piled up outside Dover, and Sainsbury’s supermarket chain warned that there could be a shortage of fresh fruit and vegetable if the ban continues.

But Mr Johnson told a press conference in Downing Street that he was confident after his call with Mr Macron that a solution would be found.


“It was an excellent conversation with the French president. He said he was keen to sort it out in the next few hours. Our teams will be working on it flat out, and if we can get a result then that will be great, but we’ll do it as fast as we can,” said Johnson.

The short straits between Dover and Calais account for about 20 per cent of freight movements between Britain and the European continent, with about 10,000 lorries making the crossing every day at this time of year.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said most of the lorry drivers stuck on the side of the road outside Dover were Europeans who were trying to return to the continent after making a delivery in Britain.

Mr Shapps said preparations for a no-deal Brexit had helped to ease the disruption because local authorities in Kent had made contingency plans for possible delays after the end of the transition period at the end of this year.

The prime minister put London and the southeast of England under a new Tier 4 level of restrictions close to a full lockdown last Saturday after scientific experts warned of the spread of the new variant of coronavirus.

In his press conference on Monday, he stressed that Britain informed its international partners about the new strain as soon as his government learned of the threat it represented.

"To our international friends and partners I want to say very frankly: we understand your concerns. And I hope that everybody can see that as soon as we were briefed as a government of the fast transmissibility of this new strain at about 3.15pm on Friday afternoon we lodged all the necessary information with the World Health Organisation. And we took prompt and decisive action the very next day to curb the spread of the variant within the UK."

Spreads easily

Mr Johnson hinted that the return of schools after Christmas could be delayed because of the rise in coronavirus infections. And chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance suggested that the Tier 4 restrictions could soon be applied elsewhere in England.

“The evidence on this virus is that it spreads easily, it’s more transmissible. We absolutely need to make sure we have the right level of restrictions in place.

“I think it is likely that this will grow in the numbers of the variant across the country, and I think it’s likely, therefore, that measures will need to be increased in some places, in due course, not reduced. I think it is the case that this will spread more,” he said.

Some Conservative MPs want parliament to be recalled from its Christmas recess to debate the government's response to the new coronavirus variant. Veteran backbencher Desmond Swayne was among those calling for ministers to be held to account for imposing the new restrictions.

“How convenient when parliament went into recess on Thursday suddenly they were then able to produce this revelation. Let’s see the evidence then. Let’s have parliament back, and show us and convince us. Come clean.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times