Published: 00:11 GMT, 21 December 2020 | Updated: 02:33 GMT, 21 December 2020

Britain’s supermarket shelves may soon stand empty as France’s Covid-19 ban on British lorries is set to stop Continental hauliers bringing in vital festive food supplies, industry bosses have warned.

The Port of Dover closed to all freight vehicles leaving the UK tonight for the next 48 hours after France imposed an inbound travel ban following the mutant Covid-19 strain which plunged London and the south east into Tier Four.

Hauliers coming to Britain from France will still be allowed in but there are fears that lorry drivers will not travel to avoid being ‘marooned’ in the UK. 

The Food and Drink Federation CEO Ian Wright said: ‘Tonight’s suspension of accompanied freight traffic from the UK to France has the potential to cause serious disruption to UK Christmas fresh food supplies and exports of UK food and drink. 

‘Continental truckers will not want to travel here if they have a real fear of getting marooned. 

‘The Government must very urgently persuade the French government to exempt accompanied freight from its ban.’   

Opearation Stack was being implemented on the M20 in Kent last night – when parts of the motorway are set aside to park lorries queuing for Channel ports

The Port of Dover closed to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK for the next 48 hours after France imposed an inbound travel ban. Pictured: Lorries queue on the M20 in Folkestone 

The French Government joined a number of other European nations in banning inbound flights from the UK. Pictured: Passengers at King’s Cross St.Pancras train station queue to board trains to Paris in London

Last night the Department for Transport said Kent;s Manston airport was being prepared to to accommodate ‘up to 4000 lorries’ as a measure to ease congestion in Kent in the wake of the France travel ban and warned hauliers to avoid travel to Kent ports ‘until further notice’.

Kent Police implemented Operation Stack, when parts of the M20 are set aside to queue lorries headed for the Continent. 

It comes after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged hauliers to avoid travelling to Kent ports as the closure of the France-UK border is expected to trigger ‘significant disruption’. 

The French Government joined a number of other European nations in banning inbound flights from the UK in a bid to prevent the spread of a coronavirus mutation sweeping through London and the south east of England.

Mr Shapps tweeted on Sunday night: ‘Following the French Government’s announcement it will not accept any passengers arriving from the UK for the next 48hrs, we’re asking the public & particularly hauliers not to travel to Kent ports or other routes to France.

‘We expect significant disruption in the area. My department is urgently working with Highways England and Kent Council on contingency measures to minimise traffic disruption in the area.

Meanwhile, Eurotunnel tweeted that its last shuttle service departing for France would leave at 9.34pm, with access to its UK site prohibited from 10pm. Pictured: Staff board the last scheduled Eurostar train from London to Paris 

Earlier, French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari confirmed the country was suspending all traffic from the UK from midnight for at least 48 hours.

The Port of Dover tweeted on Sunday night that its ferry terminal was ‘closed to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until further notice due to border restrictions in France’.

On its website it said: ‘Both accompanied freight and passenger customers are asked not to travel to the Port.

The Port of Dover tweeted on Sunday night that its ferry terminal was ‘closed to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until further notice due to border restrictions in France.’ Pictured: Freight in Folkestone line up before boarding the Channel Tunnel 

It added: ‘Port of Dover Cargo Terminal, Marina and other areas of the Port remain open.’

Meanwhile, Eurotunnel tweeted that its last shuttle service departing for France would leave at 9.34pm, with access to its UK site prohibited from 10pm.

Rod McKenzie, from the Road Haulage Association, told Sky News that 10,000 lorries a day crossed between Dover and Calais in France.

He added: ‘Brexit stockpiling is one thing, the Christmas rush is another thing, but the absolute hammer blow now is to close the borders for 48 hours.

Logistics UK, formerly the Freight Transport Association, which is based in Tunbridge Wells, tweeted: ‘Logistics UK is aware of news that accompanied freight to France is being not allowed for 48 hours; we are concerned about the welfare of drivers and we are urgently seeking more information for our members.’ 

Tory Kent MP Sir Roger Gale urged No 10 and Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to ‘get a grip’ on the developing situation with the Britain-France border.

Lorries queue for The Port of Dover along the A20 in Kent as the Dover TAP (Traffic Access Protocol) was implemented earlier this week 

He tweeted: ‘Cross Channel travel chaos. Don’t try to blame the Transport Department. Time for Number Ten and ‘CDL’ to get a grip.’

 Cold Chain Federation chief executive Shane Brennan said: ‘Whilst we face no shortages now, we do need urgent agreements between the UK and EU Governments to find a way to safely allow freight movements to continue. This has been possible at every other stage through the pandemic. An extended period of stopped movement now will cause significant problems for supply chains in January.’

The Belgian government also announced its borders with the UK will close at midnight on Sunday.

The Eurostar rail service said on its website on Sunday evening that due to the French and Belgian border closures it was unable to run any trains from London to Paris, Brussels, Lille or Amsterdam on Monday or Tuesday.

Lorries queue to enter The Port of Dover on Friday as the clock ticks down on the chance for the UK to strike a Brexit trade deal 

Services from Amsterdam, Brussels and Lille to London would also not run on these days, but trains from Paris to London continue to operate.

The rail company said it planned to resume all services to and from the UK on Wednesday and was awaiting further details from relevant governments on how travel restrictions will be enforced.

It comes after queues at Dover reached 20 miles earlier this week with long traffic jams in Calais as thousands of lorries – many full of Christmas gifts and food – tried to cross the Channel amid chaos at Britain’s container ports.

Lorries wait outside The Port of Dover along the A20 in Kent amid high volumes of freight traffic on Friday 

Lorries queue at Dover on Friday as the UK tries to strike a deal before the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31

Extraordinary photographs taken from above the M20 in Kent showed how vehicles were bumper-to-bumper amid claims businesses are stockpiling in case of a No Deal Brexit at the end of the month. 

And across the water in France, in Calais trucks lined dual carriageways for miles as they tried to get a ferry to Dover or the Channel Tunnel to Folkestone ahead of the busiest shopping week of the year. 

Retailers say items they ordered in August for Christmas have still not arrived in Britain because of shipping chaos caused by Covid-19 in China and problems unloading in the UK seeing containers dumped in Zeebrugge, Belgium.

UK firms are haemorrhaging £1million or more because shipments have been delayed and quadrupled in price with the cost of moving a container from Qingdao, China, to the UK now at £7,500 per load – up from £2,000. 

Problems at ports are being caused by a series of problems occurring at once which are not all unique to the UK. Industry insiders say there are three key issues behind the chaos:

The system for shipping goods around the world stopped working properly when economies shut down and reopened at different times as they dealt with Covid.

This led to shipping firms falling behind when it came to retrieving empty containers from European ports and taking them back to factories in Asia.

The container shortage is being exacerbated by a lack of staff across the global supply chain – including sailors, hauliers and warehouse workers – due to people falling ill or having to quarantine.

If the UK leaves the EU with no deal, then at the end of the transition period tariffs will be applied to imported goods according to World Trade Organisation rules.

Companies are therefore stockpiling goods out of fear of having to pay tariffs, or because they are concerned that new customs procedures after Brexit will delay imports.

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News – Britain’s supermarket shelves may empty