Prolonged restrictions on Dover trade could have “quite dramatic” ramifications for the UK, the port’s boss has warned.
Around 4,000 lorries had intended to leave the UK through Dover but arrivals at the port are being met with signs saying “French borders closed”.
France has placed a ban on hauliers crossing the English Channel with their cargo.
Doug Bannister, chief executive of the Port of Dover, told the PA news agency: “With the news that was released around this new variant that’s in the UK now, clearly what that meant is that a whole lot of people around Europe had to start thinking carefully about this.
“But the one thing that we did see is, certainly during the first lockdown back in March and April, we did see that lorry drivers had been exempt.
“The hope is that governments are in dialogue right now to try and determine what protocols need to be put in place.”
The busy Kent port handles more than £120 billion in trade every year so any disruption could be keenly felt.
“And that’s the scale of the issue and this is trade that’s being denied from both British and European enterprise so a prolonged period will have quite a stark situation.
“Because of the importance of the Dover straits in handling critical goods such as food and other things like that I think it could become quite dramatic.”
Mr Bannister said as soon as the situation is resolved the port would be ready to clear any backlog “really, really effectively”.
He added: “Back in September we had a nationwide security incident that had everybody and everything leaving all ports and airports subject to increased screening and indeed search.
“And at that point in time we had about 4,500 lorries that were stuck in Kent and within 12 hours of that security incident coming to a conclusion we’d cleared the backlog and got back to normal operation.
“If we can get a protocol agreed we will be able to do same thing this time around as well.”
A total of 9.28 million tonnes of cargo travelled out of the country through Dover in 2019, the fifth largest amount for any port in England.