Travel into France from the UK resumed on Wednesday morning after Paris reopened its borders with Britain for people who have tested negative for Covid-19, but in Dover on Wednesday the policy change did more to exacerbate the frustration of angry drivers than free up the flow of trucks.
Scuffles broke out between lorry drivers hoping to cross the Channel and police around the port as roads remained gridlocked despite France reopening its borders.
Kent Police said one arrest had been made after officers responded to “disturbances” at Dover and also at Manston, the site of an airport where the UK authorities were planning to start testing drivers for Covid-19.
“Scuffles, but nothing major,” said one police officer. “We’re here to essentially stop the port from being stormed.”
France’s announcement of the reopening late on Tuesday ended a 48-hour closure that was imposed in an attempt to stop a new strain of coronavirus now dominant in parts of England from spreading through Europe.
With bare feet resting on the dashboard and a cigarette hanging from his mouth, one driver who has been stranded for days found another way to vent his feelings: he blasted the horn of his vehicle.
“We asked the police when we can move but they don’t know,” said the haulier from Poland, who did not want to give his name. “They have no idea.”
The French authorities require incoming truck drivers to have a negative test for Covid-19 before they board trains and ferries.
The UK’s Department for Transport said it had started testing drivers parked at Manston airport and other holding facilities on the M20. But drivers at the front of the queue for ferries at the port said they had not been told how they would be tested in order for them to travel to France.
Paul Jackson, managing director of Chiltern Distribution in Peterborough, said: “We have one driver who has been stuck there for nearly four days and it is fair to say from what I have been told that tempers are now getting close to boiling point — no showers and limited food.”
British ministers said they expected it to take days to clear the backlog, raising the prospect of many drivers spending Christmas in their vehicles.
Mr Jackson, who is in contact with two Polish drivers stuck in Manston en route to Europe, said that by 11am there was no sign of the army personnel due to manage the testing. Drivers had been told they would arrive at 10am.
The Road Haulage Association criticised the lack of information available to drivers, many of whom have been waiting since Sunday to cross the Channel.
“We have very very angry truckers in Dover,” Rod McKenzie, director of policy at the RHA, told the BBC. He said drivers had not been given enough food or washing facilities, and that the best help had come from the Sikh community handing out food to stranded drivers.
David, a driver from Hungary whose colleagues were cooking sausages on a gas stove, said he had been queueing for three days.
He had tested negative for Covid-19 earlier this month and lamented the authorities’ demand for email verification from the NHS that he had tested negative in the past 72 hours. “We asked the police what to do and they told us just to go away,” he said.