The UK was yesterday, and will probably remain so for many days, a country full of endless queues. On the one hand, those of people outside supermarkets waiting their turn to buy and, on the other, of trucks stuck at the borders.
The end of the Brexit transition period on December 31 and the lack of preparation at customs has been causing huge lines of transport vehicles on both sides of the English Channel for three weeks. About four million trucks pass through the Port of Dover and the Eurostar terminal in Folkestone annually, hundreds of them stuck for miles. The situation has been generated by the fear of shortages due to new post-Brexit rules, to the bureaucratic chaos of customs controls, which has led many companies in the UK to want to source products from the European Union before the reality of a hard border takes hold. In addition to this, a growing number of countries have imposed bans on travelers arriving from British territory, due to concern about the most infectious strain of coronavirus detected in the country.
The coup de grace was delivered by France, which decided to prevent the entry of trucks from the British Isles for at least 48 hours, something that will inevitably have a “devastating effect” on the supply of food and other consumer goods in Britain, warned representatives of the industry, which, however, clarified that the closure of the borders is only an added problem, since the real headache is the lack of a post-Brexit agreement. Rod McKenzie, Policy Director of the Road Haulage Association, assured the newspaper “The Guardian” that, in just 48 hours, “the French ban will have a devastating effect on the supply chain”, and explained that “in recent days we have seen queues in both sides of the canal due to Brexit reservations and the Christmas rush, and now border closures will mean that everything, including perishable food supplies, will suffer. ‘
Logistics UK assured that there is much concern for the welfare of drivers, which do not have adequate sanitary facilities to eat or wash, and the situation is expected to worsen from January 1, but the prime minister defended himself saying that only 20% of shipments have been affected, and that the Supermarket supply chains are ‘strong and robust’.
For his part, the Minister of Transport, Grant Shapps, urged people not to travel to Kent, and tried to soften the reports that speak of chaos on the road, saying that the queues “of 500 trucks” had been reduced yesterday to only “170”.
Meanwhile, government sources told the local press that the supply of essential drugs, including Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19, would continue to arrive, and they clarified that there are contingency plans to use another eight ports ready to receive critical medical supplies in case of congestion due to Brexit.
Johnson tried, however, to throw balls out and blame the situation on the closing of the borders, when the truth is that the traffic jams have been going on for weeks, while the population is gathering food. In fact, the supermarket chains called for calm, since the fear of shortages has caused the shelves of these centers to remain empty and that online providers have hung the out of stock sign on many products, and have established a maximum of units per buyer, as they did in March during the first lockdown due to the pandemic. Johnson insisted, however, that problems at the border only affect “a small part” of food and medicine entering the UK.
The perfect Storm
And amid this perfect storm, any trade deal between the UK and the European Union “must” be approved by December 31st. That is the uncompromising opinion of the prime minister, who yesterday categorically rejected the requests of parliamentarians from his own party, as well as the mayor of London, the Labor Party. Sadiq Khan, to extend the negotiation beyond December 31.
According to a Downing Street spokesman, the premier scrapped the idea of allowing MPs to ratify a trade deal retrospectively because time is too short, and said the Commons would have to vote on any deal before it goes into effect. Some Conservative MPs warned yesterday that with the UK still in the midst of a pandemic and isolated by land, sea and air, it should avoid leaving the EU without a trade deal at all costs. ‘Let the Brexit trade negotiations continue. These are far from being the ideal conditions to rationally determine our future conditions of prosperity and security. If there’s no deal for the new year, let’s do our best for the UK and pause the clock, ‘tweeted the tory Tobias Ellwood, former Minister of Defense.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement that the idea of leaving the EU without a trade deal “was unwise even before the latest spike in Covid-19 cases,” asserting that this should not be allowed to happen. However, the leader of his party did not agree with him, Keir Starmer, who stated: “I don’t want an extension. I want the agreement. The prime minister said he had a pact ready for the oven… ”and asked the prime minister to keep his promise. “It would be much better for the government to get the agreement reached today, tomorrow or sometime this week,” he said.
The Chief Minister of Scotland also requested an extension of the period of talks, Nicola Sturgeon, who tweeted: ‘It is now imperative that the prime minister seeks a deal to extend the Brexit transition period. The new strain of Covid-19 and its various implications mean that we are facing a deeply grave situation, and it demands our one hundred percent attention. It would be inconceivable to make it worse with Brexit. ‘
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