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‘Continue to shop normally’: PM tries to reassure public after France freight ban

Written by on 21 December 2020

Britons have been told to continue shopping normally, despite France banning freight hauliers from crossing the English Channel over fears surrounding a new strain of coronavirus.

Addressing a Downing Street news conference, Boris Johnson said the “vast majority” of food and medical supplies are unaffected by the move.

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‘We are very heavily reliant on imports from Europe’

“It is vital first to stress that these delays – which are only occurring at Dover – only affect human-handled freight, and that is only 20% of the total arriving from or departing to the European continent,” he said.

And in a message to the public after fears were raised of potential shortages, the prime minister added: “These delays only apply to a very small percentage of food entering the UK, and as British supermarkets have said, their supply chains are strong and robust, so everyone can continue to shop normally,” Mr Johnson said.

Sainsbury’s and Tesco have both said they have enough food for customers over Christmas, but warned of potential shortages of items like lettuce, cauliflower and citrus fruits if the freight ban continues.

Meanwhile, Tim Rycroft of the Food and Drink Federation said there was “no reason to be concerned for shoppers at the moment” – but voiced hopes the current serious disruption is a “wake up call to remind us of the fragility of these supply chains”.

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The PM said he had spoken with French President Emmanuel Macron and both sides are working to “unblock the flow of trade as fast as possible”, as well as chairing a meeting of the government’s emergency COBRA committee.

And while he said the government “fully” understands the “anxieties” of European countries about COVID-19 and the new variant, Mr Johnson told the news conference: “It is also true that we believe the risks of transmission by a solitary driver sitting alone in the cab are really very low.

“And so we hope to make progress as fast as we possibly can.”

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Freight ban ‘won’t have impact’ on vaccine

Answering questions from journalists later in the news conference, the PM said of his call with the French leader: “He stressed he was keen to sort it out in the next few hours if we can.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, speaking alongside Mr Johnson, urged people not to travel to Kent with the closure of the French border.

And he said lorry drivers were “steering clear” and “as a result we haven’t seen any problems in the area”.

Mr Shapps added: “Most of the lorries who are there are primarily European hauliers looking to transit back across to the continent.”

He said the moveable barrier on the M20 will be deployed as part of Operation Brock to enable traffic to flow in both directions.

The PM said the government had “activated our long-prepared plans” to cope with Brexit disruption in the county and had been able to reduce the number of lorries waiting on the M20 from 500 to 170.

Watch our special programme tonight as Isabel Webster is joined by a panel of experts to answer your questions about the new strain of the virus, COVID Christmas rules and the new Tier 4 measures.

COVID Christmas Crisis Q&A is at 6.30pm.

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