Smooth start in France for Channel traffic as Brexit kicks in

Cross-Channel freight traffic between Britain and France was moving smoothly on Friday 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.

Smooth start in France for Channel traffic as Brexit kicks in
Trucks arrive at the harbour of Calais, after crossing from Britain on January 1, 2021, on the day that Britain leaves the EU single market and customs union. Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

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 crossed between France and the UK 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 traffic was strong enough for an exceptional and historic night, everything went well,” a spokesperson for the group 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 say that British businesses have 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 an “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, an AFP correspondent said.

Calais port president Jean-Marc Puissesseau said on Thursday that officials were relaxed about the new arrangements after carrying out dry runs and investing 13 million euros ($15.6 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 percent 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.


Member comments

  1. It was a bank holiday weekend with restrictions on HGV movement so what did you expect? The normal traffic movement is around 8000 to 10000 per day.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

A week after chaotic scenes and 6-hour queues at the port of Dover, the British motoring organisation the AA has issued an amber traffic warning, and says it expects cross-Channel ports to be very busy once again this weekend as holidaymakers head to France.

Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

The AA issued the amber warning on Thursday for the whole of the UK, the first time that it has issued this type of warning in advance.

Roads across the UK are predicted to be extremely busy due to a combination of holiday getaways, several large sporting events and a rail strike – but the organisation said that it expected traffic to once again be very heavy around the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone.

Last weekend there was gridlock in southern England and passengers heading to France enduring waits of more than six hours at Dover, and four hours at Folkestone.

The AA said that while it doesn’t expect quite this level of chaos to be repeated, congestion was still expected around Dover and Folkestone.

On Thursday ferry operator DFDS was advising passengers to allow two hours to get through check-in and border controls, while at Folkestone, the Channel Tunnel operators only said there was a “slightly longer than usual” wait for border controls.

In both cases, passengers who miss their booked train or ferry while in the queue will be accommodated on the next available crossing with no extra charge.

Last weekend was the big holiday ‘getaway’ weekend as schools broke up, and a technical fault meant that some of the French border control team were an hour late to work, adding to the chaos. 

But the underlying problems remain – including extra checks needed in the aftermath of Brexit, limited space for French passport control officers at Dover and long lorry queues on the motorway heading to Folkestone.

OPINION UK-France travel crisis will only be solved when the British get real about Brexit

The port of Dover expects 140,000 passengers, 45,000 cars and 18,000 freight vehicles between Thursday and Sunday, and queues were already starting to build on Thursday morning.