France and UK reach deal over border, Grant Shapps says

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener

France and the UK have reached an agreement to reopen their border after it was closed amid concerns over a new strain of coronavirus.

French authorities closed its border with the UK, leading to huge tailbacks of lorries in Kent, but residents and citizens of France will be allowed to return home if they return a negative Covid-19 test.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed a deal had been struck to resume travel across the border, but he urged lorry drivers not to head to Kent in the hope of getting across the border soon.

Rail, sea and air travel can all resume under the deal reached between the two governments as long as a negative coronavirus test conducted within the last 72 hours is presented.

He said: "We've made good progress today with the French government. What we've agreed is that the border can open with tests for everybody leaving the country.

"That means that you must have had a test within the last three days and of course that's got to be a tests which is certified."

While the testing scheme is in place for French citizens, Britons will not be allowed to cross over the border as part of the deal.

He added: "We'll be saying more on hauliers who at the moment must stay put, they mustn't travel to Kent at this time."

  • ITV News' Political Editor Robert Peston analyses the latest developments over the reopening of the UK/France border

Mr Shapps confirmed lateral flow tests will be allowed as proof of a negative result, as opposed to PCR tests which need to be sent off to a lab.

Lateral flow tests can return a result in under an hour, which could help ease congestion between the border more quickly.

The protocol agreed with the French government will be reviewed on the 31st December, but could run until 6th January. All lorry drivers, irrespective of nationality, will require a lateral flow test.

The protocol agreed with the French government will be reviewed on the 31st December, but could run until 6th January. All lorry drivers, irrespective of nationality, will require a lateral flow test.

Hundreds of lorries remain parked on the M20. Credit: PA

Under the agreement announced this evening, admittance into France will only be granted to those travelling for urgent reasons – including hauliers – French citizens, and British citizens with French residency. This raises questions about what it means for other EU-national lorry drivers who are in the UK.

Estimates suggest there could be as many as 4,000 lorries in Kent and in other parts of the UK which are waiting to make their trip back to France.

French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebarri said: “Planes, boats and Eurostar trains will resume service as of tomorrow morning.

“French nationals, people living in France and those with a legitimate reason will have to be carrying a negative test.”

Test and trace staff have arrived at a hotel in Dover ahead of testing on Wednesday morning.

The closure of French ports and the Euro tunnel has led to chaos in Kent as lorries were forced to queue for miles along the M20.

Trucks have also been queuing on the main road outside Manston Airport, near Ramsgate, which is being used as a lorry park.

A steady stream of lorries continue to enter the site, which is next to a drive-through coronavirus testing facility, while trucks can be seen lined up on the runway of the disused airfield.

The Road Haulage Association has expressed concern about the access to facilities and support for drivers, who were forced to sleep in their vehicles overnight.

Drivers facing their second night sleeping in their vehicles at Manston protested on Tuesday afternoon by honking their horns.

Managing director of the Road Haulage Association, Rod McKenzie said stranded lorry drivers waiting to cross the Channel on Monday evening were offered just a single cereal bar each by Kent County Council.

Laszlo Baliga, who was delivering food and water to those parked at Manston, said one driver had told him the only toilet on the site was blocked.

“No water and no toilet now – there is one toilet, but it is now blocked,” the 51-year-old told said.

Mr Baliga, from London, who himself is a lorry driver, said he began taking supplies to the disused airfield after Hungarian drivers posted on Facebook asking for help.

"We have taken money from friends and gone to Asda, Tesco,” he said.

"This is our third time, we have already brought ready-to-eat sausages, bread, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, coffee. Basic foods for now for the drivers."

He said he and others have spent more than £500 on food and water for drivers inside the site.

“We like to help because this is a difficult time," he said.

A Sikh humanitarian organisation meanwhile has been delivering hundreds of hot meals to lorry drivers.

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), also told MPs that he believes at least 4,000 trucks could be impacted by the blockage at the port of Dover.

“I don’t think the number of trucks in the queue or other areas is the relevant number,” he said. “We reckon about 4,000 on their way to Dover at various points."

Mr Wright added that "dozens of lorries (are) there with product that is going off" adding: "There is a huge hit here to Scottish seafood.

"The Government was well aware of the power of the announcement it made on Saturday and Chris Whitty went out of his way to rightly scare people over the impact.

“Everyone would have rightly known that everyone in Europe would have reacted this way, and in fact we felt similarly with Danish mink were infected.

“The consequence of this is the chaos we’ve seen over the past 24 hours. It’s incumbent on the Government to come forward to compensate on those who have lost out due because of that failure of authority.”

Duncan Buchanan, director of policy, England and Wales, at the Road Haulage Association, told MPs he was disappointed with how government presented the levels of freight disruption on Monday evening.

"It was seeking to minimise the nature of the problem,” he told MPs at the business, energy and industrial strategy select committee.

The lanes leading to check-in at the port of Dover remain empty. Credit: PA