Thousands of lorry drivers forced to spend Christmas Day in their cabs at Channel border

Around 5,000 international lorry drivers have been forced to spend Christmas Day in their cabs at the English Channel border, despite progress being made to return hauliers to their home countries.

Hundreds of soldiers have been deployed as part of the repatriation operation in Kent after French Covid-19 restrictions temporarily banning UK freight caused severe disruption at the Port of Dover.

Traffic was moving smoothly through the port on Friday morning, with French firefighters drafted in to help the military test drivers for coronavirus.

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More than 700 hauliers have been cleared for departure since France reopened its border on Wednesday – and a chorus of beeping horns sounded at Dover on Christmas Eve as those at the front of the queue celebrated finally being able to leave.

A driver takes shelter from the rain beneath the bonnet of his lorry outside the Port of Dover.
A driver takes shelter from the rain beneath the bonnet of his lorry outside the Port of Dover.

However, some 5,000 remain unable to get home yet, despite some progress made in testing drivers holed up in their vehicles at nearby Manston Airport, on a closed section of the M20, and in the town of Dover itself.

Some have already spent nearly a week stranded due to the diplomatic impasse.

Southeastern Railway and Network Rail arranged for food to be delivered to lorry drivers stuck in Operation Brock on the M20.

Seven trains carrying crates of food for the hauliers have left London in the past 48 hours, with the Salvation Army distributing the items.

France closed its border on Sunday following the discovery of a fast-spreading mutant Covid-19 strain in the UK.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “We need to get the situation in Kent, caused by the French Government’s sudden imposition of Covid restrictions, resolved as soon as possible.

“I know it’s been hard for many drivers cooped up in their cabs at this precious time of year, but I assure them that we are doing our utmost to get them home.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) have said that all but three of the 2,367 coronavirus tests issued to hauliers have been negative – a stipulation of travel introduced by French authorities.

More than 300 soldiers will take charge of testing and lorry marshalling to clear the backlog.

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