Talks with France to ease freight curbs ‘ongoing’

The country shut its border with the UK on Sunday night over fears around a new strain of coronavirus.

Talks with France to ease freight curbs ‘ongoing’ Getty ImagesGetty Images

Talks with France on reopening full trade and transport across the Channel are “ongoing”.

The country shut its border with the UK for 48 hours on Sunday night over fears around the spread of a new, more infectious strain of coronavirus.

The Prime Minister has spoken to French president Emmanuel Macron, as lorries queued in Kent, in a bid to find a solution to the situation, while First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned “there is not a moment to lose on this”.

Government sources told the PA news agency that discussions with the French Government were “ongoing” after the PM said on Monday evening the two countries were working “to unblock the flow of trade as fast as possible”.

It has been reported plans to reopen the border will come into effect from Wednesday,

Scottish food industry chiefs have said the “clock is ticking” to rescue millions of pounds worth of fresh produce bound for mainland Europe.

And Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said the “borders really need to be running pretty much freely from tomorrow to assure us that there won’t be any disruption”.

Sturgeon confirmed on Monday night she had spent most of the day in meetings, discussing the impact of the closure to accompanied freight.

She tweeted: “The most urgent priority is for UK to reach agreement with France on a protocol that will get freight moving again. There is not a moment to lose on this and while the UK government has lead responsibility here, we will do all we can to support.

“Our most immediate concern is for our exporting seafood sector. This is the peak time of year for business and the impact on them is significant.

“I raised the issue of compensation at the COBR meeting earlier and the Scottish Government will also liaise with sector about support we can offer.

“We have no immediate concern about food supplies – supermarkets are well stocked – so I’d urge people not to buy any more than already planned. Obviously we will continue to monitor situation closely as we head into the post Christmas period. But early resolution vital.

“Similarly, we have good stockpiles of medicines and medical supplies, and no concern about Covid vaccine supplies – but again we will monitor the situation very closely.”

The Scottish Government “will be actively engaged in all of these issues until resolved,” she added. However, she said “the most important priority is to reach agreement to get freight moving” as soon as possible.

Mr Opie told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is a problem potentially directly after Christmas and that is really in fresh produce, so we’re talking here about things like salad, vegetables, fresh fruit, of which the vast majority come from Europe at this time.

“The problem actually is empty lorries, so the empty lorries which are now stuck in Kent, they need to get back to places like Spain to pick up the next consignment of raspberries and strawberries and they need to get back within the next day or so, otherwise we will see disruption.”

He added: “As long as it can be cleared today, there’ll be minimal impact for consumers – remember the shops are shut on Christmas Day which takes one day of buying out of the equation, but those lorries that are stuck in Kent, they do need to get back within the next day.”

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