Boris Johnson is holding emergency talks to avoid food shortages over Christmas after France banned shipping and travel from the United Kingdom.
The prime minister chairs a Cobra crisis meeting of senior ministers and officials amid concerns in Whitehall that some imported food could run out in less than two weeks.
Johnson was forced to take action after France and several other European countries responded to his Level 4 COVID lockdown in southeast England by announcing a two-day travel ban from the UK.
Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Bulgaria announced Travel restrictions in the UKAfter the Prime Minister revealed that a new strain of highly contagious Coronavirus has swept the region.
The government’s biggest fear is that food supplies and even the COVID vaccine could be affected because French carriers will not travel to the UK if they are unable to return home.
A spokesman for Number 10 said that the talks aimed to “discuss the situation regarding international travel, in particular the ongoing flow of freight to and from the United Kingdom”, adding: “Other meetings are being held … to ensure strong plans are in place.”
Sky News realizes that the government is tracking the number of food days remaining on supermarket shelves, amid concerns that if ports close for longer than the current two days, some foodstuffs will run out in just two weeks.
Amid reports of military aircraft ready to transport Pfizer vaccines from Belgium if needed, sources in Whitehall told Sky News that emergency measures are in place if needed to ensure that the vaccine continues to be shipped unimpeded.
Update, 11:30 pm: The French border closed 30 minutes ago. Two companies we spoke to highlight the nightmare. Nearly £ 1million worth of perishable products are on trucks en route to UK ports (these are just 2 companies). Now parked all night. Missed Christmas delivery dates, losses are grim. https://t.co/5F89hrmewr
James Withers (@scotfoodjames) December 20, 2020
The government is also trying to avoid further gridlock on routes to the canal ports in Kent, which have already become paralyzed due to COVID delays and the Brexit transition period.
Transportation Minister Grant Shaps said the government was Expect major disruption in Kent He urged carriers and other road users not to travel to the province’s ports or other routes to Europe until further notice.
Operation Stack was carried out after the Canal Tunnel and Port Dover closure, which means trucks must stand in line on the M20 coastline between Junction 8 and 11 to avoid choking across Kent roads.
Rod Mackenzie, of the Road Transport Association, told Sky News that 10,000 trucks pass daily between Dover and Calais in France.
He added: “Stocking up on Brexit is one thing, and the Christmas rush is another, but the absolute hammer blow now is to close the borders for 48 hours.”
“This is a serious disruption in every important supply chain.”
The prime minister is also facing severe criticism from opposition politicians and some of his senior vice-presidents.
One big concern among many members of Parliament is that after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at Sky Sophy Ridge Sunday that the Level 4 campaign could last for months, the travel ban could be lengthy.
Leading the Tory attack, Mark Harper, who chairs the COVID Recovery Group of Conservative MPs, demanded that Parliament be summoned, the House of Commons debate and vote on Level 4 measures.
He said, “The development of the dangerous situation resulting from the government’s announcement reinforces the reason for calling Parliament to discuss these matters and hold ministers accountable on behalf of our voters.”
There is also concern among Kent’s Conservative MPs. Veteran North Thant Member of Parliament Sir Roger Gill protested, “The canal travel mess. Don’t try to blame the Transportation Department. Time to get number ten and CDL (Michael Gove) to get a grip.”
After warnings of “test day” on boycott roads, “This will be a very difficult time for all of us,” said Tonbridge Mulling, Member of Parliament and Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chairman Tom Tugendhat, sadly.
Shadow Cabinet Secretary Rachel Reeves said: “The country needs to hear credible plans and reassurance that essential supplies, including NHS, supermarkets and manufacturers with important supply chains will be protected.
“We cannot afford the same slowness that this government has shown throughout this epidemic. The prime minister must urgently explain what he is doing to bring the situation under control.”
Shadow International Trade Minister Bill Esterson added: “Flights have stopped, ferry ports are closed. Eurotunnel is closed. If anyone has any doubts about how severe this crisis is, wake up.”
As the travel chaos coincides with the recent stalemate in trade talks on Brexit in Brussels, there have also been calls from opposition politicians to extend the transition period, set to end on December 31.
It is now imperative that the prime minister seek an agreement to extend the Brexit transition period. The new Covid strain – and the various effects of it – means that we are facing a very dangerous situation that requires our 100% attention. It would be unthinkable to double that with Brexit.
– Nicola Sturgeon (@ Nicola Sturgeon) December 20, 2020
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