Up to 7,000 lorries and vans in the UK will have seen their journeys halted by France’s travel ban by Wednesday, business chiefs have warned.
Transport and food manufacturing bosses told MPs the backlog now included thousands of drivers and their vehicles all over the UK, rather than those stuck in Kent alone.
Hauliers have been urged not to head to ports after France’s blockade was announced, in a bid to stem the flow of the more infectious coronavirus strain into the country. Talks are ongoing between the UK and French government.
Duncan Buchanan, director of policy for England and Wales at the Road Haulage Association (RHA), said the French restrictions were “ill-thought-through and quite possible counterproductive,” with an “enormous” impact on supply chains.
He told an emergency hearing by MPs on the border crisis that between 6,000 and 7,000 goods vehicles would be unable to leave the UK by the end of Tuesday. Such disruption would also delay their eventual return with supplies, he said.
Watch: Ireland extends UK travel ban to 31 December
The end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December will exacerbate problems further, he told MPs on the business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) select committee. “This is the start of a very, very serious supply chain disruption of the like we have probably never experienced.”
Buchanan called potential mass testing of drivers a “waste of time,” telling MPs infection rates were low among hauliers and drivers would mix at testing sites in Kent. He said it would be better for trucks to be able to continue without stopping.
He added that he was concerned about drivers’ welfare, saying it “fell apart” on Tuesday as tailbacks grew in Kent. “These are not lorries, these are drivers, these are people - we need to look after them properly.”
It was “pathetic” Britain was not looking after drivers’ better with adequate food and hygiene facilities, when changes were looming anyway with the Brexit transition. “We should be ready for this. We’re quite angry.”
Some drivers are reported to have slept in their cabs two nights in a row while waiting in Kent. Lorry driver Caspar Pecherzewski told PA earlier in the day: “We can find a toilet, at a gas station or something, but we don’t have showers and stuff.
“I am now staying in a hotel, but in front of the hotel there are thousands of people without any rooms waiting to come over the Channel crossing. The problems of the drivers who are not already in hotels is huge – in my hotel three buses are renting just one room to have a toilet and a shower.”
Buchanan added that the RHA had repeatedly called for safe, secure lorry parking facilities, and criticised fines for parking in lay-bys. “It’s a shame on this country we treat drivers as badly as we do.”
The UK government is reported to be offering drivers a bottle of water on arrival at the Manston in-land parking facility, an overspill site for the port of Dover where lorries are being directed, with toilets also on site. Home secretary Priti Patel told Sky News “welfare facilities and support” were available.
Watch: What are freeports?