Britain seeks deal with France to ease border closure after coronavirus scare

·2-min read

Britain’s government said Tuesday it was working with France to reopen one of Europe’s busiest important trade routes after Paris shut the border in a bid to stop a more contagious coronavirus strain from spreading on the continent.

Britain’s government has been scrambling to get France to lift restrictions on freight since Paris joined much of the world in cutting off travel from the UK over a highly infectious strain of the new coronavirus was detected there.

“We’re working to get a resolution. It’s in both our interests to ensure that we have flow,” British Home Secretary Priti Patel told Sky News. “We’ll see what materialises today.”

Patel’s comments came the morning after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and said he was working “as fast as possible” to unblock cross-Channel trade.

The closures have caused chaos around the UK port of Dover and led to concerns of food shortages before Christmas, and British supermarket Sainsbury’s warned prolonged disruption could lead to gaps in the supply of lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and citrus fruit.

Johnson told reporters supply chains remained “strong and robust”.

“These delays only apply to a very small percentage of food entering the UK,” Johnson said.

Foretaste of no-deal Brexit

France decided on Sunday to close the border to hauliers and other travellers for at least 48 hours in an effort to contain the new coronavirus strain, which officials say is 70 percent more transmissible than other strains.

The move prompted Britain to activate a contingency plan to deal with gridlock in roads around Dover that had been planned in the event of a no-deal Brexit, providing a foretaste of what to expect if Britain completes its departure from the European Union without a new trade deal in 10 days.

Road signs near the Channel port, through which 10,000 trucks pass each day, urged people to go home. Lorry drivers described frustration and many had slept in their trucks.

Some British drivers said they intended to remain home for the holidays. Drivers from France and elsewhere were stranded, unable to return to the continent.

The BBC cited French Europe Minister Clément Beaune as saying France and the UK would set out a plan to restart freight on Wednesday.

European Union representatives were to meet Tuesday in an attempt to harmonise the restrictions of member states to prevent the new variant from spreading on the continent.

Member states would “reopen borders in a coordinated manner” and allow certain travellers and hauliers to pass, a diplomatic source told AFP agency.

(with newswires)