PM appears unaware of the scale of the problem at the Channel border, Joel Hill writes

  • Video report by ITV News Business and Economics Editor Joel Hills

It’s called Operation Stack for a reason

From first light this morning 33 miles of the M20 was turned into a lorry park.

The eastbound carriageway can hold up to 3,000 vehicles. Tonight, there are 945 and counting.

Earlier, the prime minister appeared to be strangely unaware of the volume of traffic that was building up.

In his press conference this afternoon, Boris Johnson told journalists there were 174 parked lorries.

At the time he was speaking, Kent Highways was telling me there were 500 in the queues and that number has risen further.

Johnson also said the delays were “only occurring at Dover” which handles “only 20%” of the goods sent from the UK to the EU. Remarkably, he failed to mention Eurotunnel.

The Channel Tunnel accounts for a further 26% of UK-EU trade, according to a recent analysis by EY.

Almost half of the goods we export to the EU leave from Dover and Folkestone. Did the prime minister not know this? Was he being selective? Either way, he dramatically undersold the scale of the problem.

A few hours ago there was talk of a solution but France appears to be insisting on a stricter testing regime for lorry drivers than the British government is willing to accept.

The French are not prepared to accept lateral-flow tests, which can be processed within 30 minutes. They want PCR tests, which are more reliable but take at least a day to process.

The supermarkets insist you can shop with confidence and that your Christmas dinner is safe. The food you need is either on the shelves or on its way there.

But if the disruption stretches into Wednesdays there will be supply shortages, of fresh fruit and vegetables in particular which are out of season in the UK.

A strawberry lasts for around for nine days after it’s picked. It usually takes up to five days to transport strawberries from Spain to the supermarket shelves in the UK.

A few days of delays at the border cuts a strawberry’s shelf life and can make them almost unsellable.

If the politicians can find common ground in next 24 hours then Port of Dover is very confident that the lorry queues can be cleared within hours and this problem will disappear.

If it can’t then expect the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables to be reduced after Christmas.