Kent lorry chaos: Seafood rots by the roadside as gridlock predicted to last days

The gridlock in Kent will “take days to clear”, officials warned last night amid fears that fresh produce caught up in the delays will perish.

Fish was among the products causing the greatest concern to exporters, who warned it would have to be discarded. “The window wherein companies would be able to salvage anything from the last couple of days is now closed for premium seafood, which has been perishing by the roadside since Sunday night,” Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, said. “Millions of pounds have been lost, much of it by small companies that were depending on this trade for survival.”

Fears were also growing last night that supermarket shelves would be emptied in the coming days, despite an agreement by the French and British to resume freight movements from this morning.

“The real issue we face is what happens in the next day or so,” Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, told MPs on the business, energy and industrial strategy committee.

“If we do not see the empty trucks, which have already delivered to warehouses and stores, getting back over the Channel, they will not be able to pick up the next consignment of fresh fruit, vegetables, salad vegetables.

“What we’ve been told by members is that unless those trucks can start travelling again and go back to Spain and Portugal and other parts of Europe, we will have problems with fresh produce from December 27. What we need is for those trucks to move in the next 24 hours if we are to avoid seeing problems on our shelves.”

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, said that perishable produce such as seafood must be prioritised if hauliers are able to start moving again today. “We still await detail of the agreement, but if freight starts moving tomorrow, as we must hope it will, the plan to prioritise perishable produce such as seafood should be activated immediately,” she said.

Officials in Paris announced last night that an agreement on both sides of the Channel would allow for a limited resumption of travel, including “accompanied freight” from today. Only people with negative coronavirus test results will be permitted to travel.

A Turkish lorry driver has breakfast by the M20 yesterday

A Turkish lorry driver has breakfast by the M20 yesterday

A statement from the French prime minister’s office said lateral flow tests, which provide a result within 20 minutes, would be authorised providing they were able to detect the new strain of coronavirus.

Hundreds of soldiers will be deployed to a former airfield in Manston, Kent, to conduct the tests on up to 6,000 lorry drivers a day from this morning. Drivers who test positive will be told to isolate in hotels.

Businesses were hoping the gridlock in Kent would be cleared by Christmas, but many are already counting the cost of the 48-hour border shutdown. Nimisha Raja, founder of Nim’s Fruit Crisps, in Sittingbourne, said: “We were supposed to have eight tonnes of lemons coming in last week, that’s roughly 40,000 lemons.

“The delivery was organised well in advance of the Christmas shutdown, as we have an order going out mid-January, which requires at least two to three tonnes to fulfil.

An aerial view of Manston airport shows lines of lorries yesterday

An aerial view of Manston airport shows lines of lorries yesterdayWILLIAM EDWARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

“Unfortunately, the order never got to us, initially because of a bank holiday in Spain and then the realisation that the double whammy of Covid-19 and Brexit would make it too time-consuming and too risky.”

DPI, based in Castle Donington in Leicestershire, manufactures and supplies illuminated displays for shops and the events industry. Sandra Wiggins, the company’s boss, said it ships six-metre-long crates of aluminium into the UK from the Netherlands from which it fashions lightboxes.

With its latest shipment delayed it will have to decide whether it should pay transit costs of £6,000 for a delivery of supplies that normally costs £1,800, and with no guarantee they will arrive.

Edward Naylor runs Naylor Industries, manufacturing pipes at facilities in Barnsley and Fife, employing 150 people. The pipes are used for carrying electricity cables into homes and telecommunications and power to motorway gantries and traffic lights.

It sources polyethylene from a company in Nantes in France and was told this week that because of the level of Covid-19 outbreaks in the UK its hauliers would not be leaving France. “Their message to us was we have got the stuff. We want to get it out to you. But we can’t. And we won’t be able to get it to you until things normalise,” Mr Naylor said.

Lorries are parked on the M20, with a contraflow system for cars

Lorries are parked on the M20, with a contraflow system for cars

However, his company had expected Brexit disruption and built up a larger than normal buffer of stocks through to February. “That is £1.5 million of stock sitting around on 20 to 30 trucks, tying up a not inconsiderable sum for a company our size,” he said. “We are in danger of becoming a plastic pipe manufacturer without any plastic. There is a sense of impending doom.”

Others are praying borders farther afield open soon to flights from the UK. “Our biggest problem has been air freight and the live lobsters being flown in from Canada,” Keith Smith of Caterfish, one of the biggest operators at the Birmingham Wholesale Market, said.

“When they heard our latest news [on the pandemic], Canada cancelled the flights. That is a big shame for the local Chinese community around here who like their live lobster.

Drivers feel like caged monkeys

Lorry drivers stuck at a disused airfield because of France’s freight ban complained that they felt like “caged monkeys” and “lab rabbits” (Charlie Parker writes).

Yesterday, as the sun set on Manston airport, Kent, the sound of hundreds of horns filled the air as drivers protested against the “blockade”. More than 1,500 heavy goods vehicles are trapped while the UK thrashes out plans to reopen the French border to trade.

Daniel Kroba, 36, from Poland, had dropped off luxury chocolates when the border shut on Sunday. He parked on a side street but police told him to drive to the airport, 30 minutes away. He was among 873 HGVs to arrive at the site before 6am. A further 650 vehicles were moved there from the M20.

The government was under pressure yesterday to turn the airport into a Covid testing site, but Mr Kroba said: “Why do we need a test? We are not lab rabbits. My family is waiting at home. Two little girls and my wife are sad.

“We’re just stuck in the middle of the fight between [the] UK and France, waiting. We don’t know if we can leave. We feel like rabbits and monkeys. It’s inhuman.”

Another Polish driver said: “The toilet here is broken and the next one is one kilometre walk away. It’s impossible to get home for Christmas.”

At 4pm hundreds of drivers held their hands down on their horns in protest.

The Department for Transport (DfT) told the press not to enter the airfield due to Tier 4 rules inside, although scores of drivers could be seen standing together with limited social distancing being observed.

There are 77 toilets and 66 urinals at Manston, the DfT said, and hot food was available. Several lorries left the airfield during the day. “The lorry drivers are free to leave the airport site at any time,” the DfT added.

Manston shut in 2014. It was an RAF base in the Battle of Britain and acted as a reception centre for Polish airmen.

Source: The Times