December 21, 2020
DOVER, England (Reuters) – The United Kingdom was on Monday shut off from much of Europe after its closest allies cut transport ties due to fears about a new strain of the coronavirus, sowing chaos for families and companies just days before it exits the European Union’s orbit.
France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Israel and Canada shut off travel ties after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Saturday that a highly infectious new strain of the virus was a danger to the country.
Johnson will chair an emergency response meeting on Monday to discuss international travel, in particular the flow of freight in and out of Britain.
France shut its border to the United Kingdom for people and trucks, closing off its most important trade artery with mainland Europe, a step Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said was surprising.
“I’m in touch with my opposite number in France and we’re doing everything we can to get that restarted, in fact they’ve said to us they want to restart the hauliers as quickly as possible,” Shapps told Sky.
Shapps said getting the bans lifted as swiftly as possible was his priority but that given British preparations for the end of the Brexit transition period, the country was prepared.
The British government triggered Brexit contingency plans to deal with transport delays in the southern English region of Kent. Trucks are being stacked on the M20 motorway which is closed to normal traffic. A nearby airport will also be used to hold freight.
The travel chaos comes just days before the United Kingdom is due to exit the EU’s orbit with – or without – a trade deal that negotiators are still trying to hash out.
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kate Holton)
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