Emergency road measures to handle post-Brexit queues in Kent have been restarted by the government to cope with potential holiday traffic – despite Friday’s decision to further restrict cross-Channel travel to France.
Barriers on the M20 were erected over the weekend for Operation Brock, a decision taken on Thursday “in anticipation of increased international travel by car drivers from Monday”, according to Highways England.
Next weekend would normally be the busiest for passenger traffic at the ports, at the start of most school summer holidays, while tomorrow’s “freedom day” was expected to mean more traffic on the roads in Kent. However, demand could be further dampened by the UK government’s announcement that France would be excluded from the policy that allows vaccinated travellers to visit amber-list countries without quarantine on their return.
Eurotunnel said it had not had immediate cancellations, but added: “We have seen significantly lower booking levels this year so did not anticipate any traffic congestion.”
Hauliers say they have not had any delays due to traffic on the way to the ports.
The government said the U-turn on its travel policy was due to the existence of cases of the Beta variant in France.
A spokesperson for Eurotunnel, which had warned that the decision would “ruin summer” for many people, said it did not understand the sudden move. It said: “We’ve been talking to government non-stop and didn’t get any heads up, and we’ve asked what is the rationale behind it.
“We’re baffled. There’s no evidence that the variant is a problem in France. Not only is it very low, it is declining.”
Richard Ballantyne, the chief executive of the British Ports Association, said: “The latest rule change in respect of French travel is particularly unhelpful. Maritime operators have worked flat out to adapt to ever changing cross border arrangements but this decision is another body blow.”
Airlines’ anger grew at the weekend, with the global body Iata saying the UK was an “outlier” with “no coherent policy”. Its director general, Willie Walsh, said: “The government is flip-flopping and making life impossible for people … and destroying its own travel sector and the thousands of jobs that rely on it.”
Outrage was felt equally across the Channel, where French newspapers and politicians lambasted the UK. Centre-right paper Le Figaro said: “Boris Johnson has once again shown that he can say anything and the opposite. On Friday morning, he confirmed that 19 July would be “freedom day” … On Friday evening, he punished travellers from France, as if the much-vaunted British vaccine protection no longer existed.”
Prof Neil Ferguson, speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, said there was concern over the Beta variant, despite the low numbers, because it could prove resistant to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
He said: “It’s not going up in France, actually Delta is their concern. These variants slightly compromise vaccines … Beta does so more than Delta, which could be a concern in the autumn.”