Smooth start in France for Channel traffic as Brexit kicks in

Orange and green lanes for entry into France and the EU are seen on the road as new customs infrastructure for Brexit at Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles, near Calais December 31, 2020. — Reuters pic
Orange and green lanes for entry into France and the EU are seen on the road as new customs infrastructure for Brexit at Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles, near Calais December 31, 2020. — Reuters pic

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CALAIS, Jan 1 — Cross-Channel freight traffic between Britain and France was moving smoothly today in the first hours after London’s exit from the EU customs union, dispelling fears of immediate snarl-ups in the wake of the historic change.

Hundreds of lorries had crossed into France and left the country for the United Kingdom through the Channel Tunnel while dozens more were carried on ferries, with no reports of any major hold-ups. 

Almost 200 lorries passed through the tunnel after Britain formally left the EU customs union and single market at midnight in the final act of its exit from the European Union, operator Getlink said.

The first ferry to set sail for France under the new arrangements, The Pride of Kent of P&O Ferries, meanwhile docked in Calais mid-morning. 

“The traffic was strong enough for an exceptional and historic night, everything went well,” a spokesperson for Getlink told AFP.

“All the trucks completed the formalities” required by the fact Britain is no longer part of the EU customs union. “None of the lorries were sent back,” the spokesperson said.

French officials have insisted that disruption at the frontier in Calais in northern France is being minimised by a so-called “smart border”. Hauliers are required to enter information about their freight online in advance with only a rapid scan needed at the border.

Once this is done the trucks can either be waved through with a green light or subjected to extra checks if given an orange one.

Officials also say that British businesses have also stockpiled for January, which is also a relatively quiet month with little activity after Christmas.

The first vehicle to pass through heading for Britain was a heavy goods vehicle from Romania carrying post and parcels, which was symbolically given the go-ahead by Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart.

“I am very happy, it is a privilege for me,” said its driver Toma Moise, 62.

Bouchart, who pressed the button allowing the lorry to leave, said it was a “historic moment” adding that going back to customs checks after the UK’s near half century of EU membership “will have consequences whose range we don’t yet know”.

‘Don’t fear Brexit’

There had been immense bottlenecks of traffic after France briefly closed the border in late December when a new coronavirus variant was found in Britain. 

But with all drivers coming in now taking tests before entering France, the backlog was cleared just in time for the completion of Brexit.

The first to submit to a check on entering France was a lorry driven by Ukrainian Viktor who smiled and noted that “colleagues from England said ‘congratulations’ to me, because I’m the first driver”.

Of the 36 trucks disembarking from the Pride of Kent, which left from the British port of Dover, three were told to stop for additional checks, the AFP correspondent said.

Calais port president Jean-Marc Puissesseau said Thursday that officials were relaxed about the new arrangements after carrying out dry runs and investing €13 million (RM62.7 million).

“We regret Brexit, but we don’t fear it... We are at ease because for three years now we have been able to perfect everything we’ve prepared,” Puissesseau said.

Some 70 per cent of trade between Britain and the EU passes through the French ports of Calais and Dunkirk. On average, 60,000 passengers and 12,000 trucks pass through daily. — AFP

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