UK-France border to stay open at Christmas to clear truck logjam
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Dover - Rail and sea links between the UK and France will remain open over Christmas to clear the backlog of thousands of trucks stranded by a new strain of coronavirus, Britain said on Thursday.
Thousands of European truckers on Wednesday spent a fourth night sleeping in the cabs of their vehicles, which are stuck close to the major cross-Channel port of Dover while the drivers wait to pass a Covid test, as required by France for travel.
Around 6 000 trucks were waiting early Wednesday evening to cross the border, according to the British Department of Transport, including 3 750 vehicles parked at the old Manston airport, which is also Covid testing site.
The others are stuck on the nearby roads in the southeastern county of Kent.
"As testing in Kent continues... I've spoken to my French counterpart (Jean-Baptiste Djebbari) and we've agreed the UK/French border at Eurotunnel, Dover & Calais WILL remain open throughout Xmas in order to help hauliers & citizens return home as soon as possible," UK transport minister Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter.
Ferry services do not usually run between Dover and France on Christmas Day.
The massive testing operation, which is being bolstered by the military, began late Wednesday, under an agreement between London and Paris to resume the flow of cross-Channel traffic.
France suspended the routes after a potentially more contagious variant of the virus was identified in Britain.
A team of 26 French firefighters arrived early Thursday in Dover with 10 000 tests to help the British and "accelerate" the return of European citizens, according to France's ambassador to Britain, Catherine Colonna.
They aim to restore Britain's supply chain, which is highly dependent on trucks shuttling to and from mainland Europe, before shortages arise, and to enable European hauliers and passengers to head home.
The EU's transport commissioner, Adina Valean, estimated that a total of 10 000 European truckers were having difficulties returning from the UK.
She blasted France for imposing the snap freight restrictions, criticisms rejected by Paris.
British MP Natalie Elphicke, the representative for Dover, backed the commissioner, tweeting that there was "no excuse for France's irresponsible behaviour in closing the Border.
"The EU Commissioner for Transport is right in her condemnation of France's decision and actions."
More than 50 countries have imposed travel restrictions on the UK after it was announced that a variant of Covid-19 had appeared in the country, although France went a step further by also imposing a freight ban.