Monday, January 18, 2021

France agrees to reopen border after UK-to-Europe trucking route paralysis amid fears of mutant viruses

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Critical trade and transport links between the UK and mainland Europe must resume after France agreed to end a suspension that crippled Britain’s busiest port at a time of high political drama on Brexit.

European Union citizens and residents capable of presenting negative Covid-19 tests will be able to travel from the United Kingdom, according to French Prime Minister Jean Castex. The goal is now to move freight traffic by Wednesday morning, said a French official.

France cut shipments of Dover Sunday in south-eastern England over concerns over a faster-spreading variant of Covid-19 that prompted the UK government to lock down London and surrounding areas.

What followed was two days of cross-Channel political bartering over reopening roads as negotiations with the EU on a post-Brexit trade deal intensified. With less than 10 days of the end of a transition period on Dec.31, the upheaval has provided a glimpse of the potential pain that Britain’s closest continental neighbor can trigger.

The UK has found itself isolated as more than 40 countries have restricted flights, including many members of the EU. On Wednesday, the Nikkei announced that Japan would suspend all foreign arrivals from the UK while thePhilippineswill stop all flights from December 24 to December 31 to prevent the spread of the new variant of the coronavirus. India, Hong Kong and Singapore have implemented similar measures.

Nearly 3,000 trucks have been stranded in the south-east of England, threatening a shortage of some fresh food products in UK supermarkets. German airline Deutsche Lufthansa AG said it wouldair liftfresh produce in the UK on Wednesday to ease potential shortages.

Test discussions

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday called French President Emmanuel Macron to try to find a solution and both sides had vowed to resolve the border issue within hours. Instead, the stalemate has been prolonged over a disagreement over how to ensure truck drivers do not transport the new strain of coronavirus to France.

The French side was pushing for carriers to pass PCR tests, which give a result between 24 and 48 hours, said two people familiar with the matter. The UK preferred side-flow tests which are less accurate but only take around 15 minutes, which could ease blockage faster.

The British military and the National Health Service will establish several test sites in Kent, the county where Dover is located, Sky News reported.

The new travel restrictions will apply until at least January 6, the French government said. The British side has asked to publish any announcement at the end of the day to prevent too many trucks from going to Kent, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“Truckers should not, and this is important, congregate at departure points in Kent to avoid saturating the system we are putting in place,” Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, French Minister of Transport, told BFM TV .

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps echoed the request in a statement on Tuesday evening. “This protocol will see the French border reopen to those traveling for urgent reasons, provided they have a certified negative Covid test,” Shapps said. “We continue to urge carriers not to travel to Kent until further notice as we work to reduce congestion at ports.”

Isolate Britain

EU ambassadors meeting in Brussels agreed to continue monitoring the epidemiological situation closely and the EU Crisis Response Unit stands ready to meet if necessary in the coming days, EU diplomats said. Envoys stressed the importance of maintaining the flow of freight to and from the UK

Doug Bannister, managing director of the port of Dover, said earlier that the backlog of goods could be quickly eliminated once France reopens its border. After a safety stop was lifted in September, 4,500 trucks boarded the ferries in just 12 hours, he said.

“I’m glad it has finally been reopened,” said Duncan Buchanan, policy director of the Road Haulage Association, which represents UK trucking companies. “It was an untenable position to block the UK like that. Testing is a waste of time, but if you have to do it, you have to do it. “

Earlier on Tuesday, the European CommissioncalledMember States to reopen critical commercial and passenger transport links to the UK while discouraging non-essential travel

Non-essential travel between the UK and the EU is expected to be temporarily restricted anyway from January 1, when Britain leaves the continent’s customs union. As a so-called third country, the UK will be subject to restrictions related to Covid.

As 2021 approaches, the broader contours of Britain’s future relationship with the EU are still being decided by negotiating teams entrenched in Brussels in an attempt to finalize a trade deal.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said Britain and the EU were giving “a final push” to negotiations on a trade deal, while officials on both sides spoke of a agreement possible from Wednesday.

–With help from Alberto Nardelli, Lizzy Burden and Siddharth Philip.

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