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The Telegraph

Channel ferries and trains to run through Christmas to clear lorry gridlock after French travel ban

Cross channel ferries and trains are to run through Christmas Day to help end the lorry chaos in Kent after the British and French Governments struck a deal to cancel the festive break. Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, announced on Twitter that they had agreed the UK-French border at Eurotunnel, Dover and Calais would remain open throughout Christmas “in order to help hauliers & citizens return home as soon as possible.” Some 10,000 hauliers are stranded in Kent and elsewhere in the UK waiting to have their 30-minute Covid tests so that they can travel to France under a separate UK-French deal on Tuesday to end France’s 48 hour travel ban. Furious lorry drivers clashed with police on Wednesday as they vented their frustration at delays in being tested and getting home for Christmas. Overnight talks between Mr Shapps and his french counterpart Jean Baptiste Djebbari led to agreement with the ferry companies, port authorities, border police and unions, who had initially been reported to be opposed. However, Christophe Fontaine, the delegate for the CFDT, the main union for the Calais port, confirmed staff will work in “solidarity” with the truckers on December 24 and 25 to help get them home. Mr Fontaine told the Telegraph: “Honestly, given the conditions the truckers are in at the border, from a point of view of solidarity that is the least we can do. We’re not going to be against reopening the port. These exceptional circumstances demand an exceptional response. “We on the French side are ready to welcome, to do what is necessary in the interests of the traffic, the passengers and the drivers. The problem is on the British side. We will not prevent the truckers from being with their families for Christmas.” The port is also understood to be exploring the possibility of putting testing in place on arrival in France to ease the pressure on the military and medical teams testing truckers and passengers in Kent. The French want mandatory testing at the border until January 6, which they say has been agreed with UK authorities. The measures will be reviewed and possibly extended then. Some 170 soldiers from 36 Engineering Regiment and the 1st battalion Irish Guards last night joined the 100 NHS staff to ramp up the testing from 10 mobile units set up at Manston Airport, on the M20 and on the approaches to Dover port. Asked on Wednesday night if the backlog chaos could be cleared by New Year, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, admitted: “We don’t know how long it will take to resolve, [I am] very hopeful it will be done before the New Year. “[It’s] an enormous operation, it’s not something that can be done instantaneously and one of the reasons why we continue to appeal to people to stay away from Kent and from the ports.” Mr Shapps, who chaired a Cobra emergency meeting on the crisis on Wednesday, added: “I want to apologise to people in Kent, there will be a lot of disruption being created and caused by the French closing their border.”

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