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Boris Johnson Calls An Emergency Cobra Meeting After Europe Cuts The UK Off Over New Covid Strain

Boris Johnson will chair an emergency Cobra meeting today to discuss the border chaos sparked by the suspension of travel between the UK and France (PA)

4 min read

Boris Johnson will chair an emergency Cobra meeting this morning after Europe cut off the UK amid fears over the discovery of a virulent new coronavirus strain.

The Prime Minister is convening the government's civil contingencies committee to deal with the growing crisis at the border with France after all traffic was suspended for 48 hours.

Hauliers have been urged to stay away from the Channel ports in Kent amid warnings of "significant disruption" in the run-up to Christmas and the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.

Kent Police said they were implementing Operation Stack, which sees one carriageway of the M20 used to queue up lorries on the way to the coast, while the disused Manston Airport is being prepared for use as a freight park if the disruption continues.

More than £33billion was wiped off the FTSE 100 within minutes of opening this morning as markets tumbled in response to the news most European countries, along with several others around the world, are prohibiting travel from the UK.

It comes as after the PM cancelled much of the planned relaxation of Covid restrictions for the festive period following the revelation the highly infectious new strain is widespread across south-east England.

But it is the decision by France to stop all passengers and “accompanied freight” - which is containers driven by trucks - coming from Britain which is causing the government the most concern in final run-up to Christmas.

The transport secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News the ban on freight hauliers was "slightly surprising", but claimed the disruption was not a "specific problem" in the short term.

"The Kent Dover-to-Calais Eurotunnel, what we call the short straits, is probably about 20% of goods going to and from, in and out of the country,” he said.

"But it's not the mainstay. Most goods actually come in and out by unaccompanied containers and those will continue to flow."

The minister also claimed the public will not "for the most part" notice any shortages at supermarkets as a result of France's freight lorry ban, saying hauliers were "quite used to anticipating disruption”.

He added: "It's not really in anybody's particular interest to not have hauliers going across, not least because they are mostly European hauliers and the goods are mostly theirs, so they will not want them perishing any more than we would want the border closed."

As well as fears over food and other perishable goods being delayed there are questions over how the next batch of coronavirus vaccine will make it to the UK amid the disrutopn.

But Mr Shapps said he could guarantee supplies of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, which is manufactured in Belgium, would not be affected by travel bans.

He said: "It comes via containers and the container traffic isn't affected at all, so this isn't an issue with the vaccine at all and indeed will never be an issue for medicines regardless because we have freight contingencies in place."

Elsewhere the Brexit talks continue to be stalled with just 10 days until the end of the transition period, with renewed calls to extend it to avoid the further pressure at the Channel ports a no-deal scenario would bring.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was "imperative" the government sought to do so, but Mr Shapps rejected the idea - telling BBC Breakfast: "I think the one thing which could actually add fuel to the fire would be ending something that everyone's known is ending for a very long time, which is the end of the transition period which completes on the 31st December, so absolutely not, no.

"The important thing is that businesses continue to prepare, that individuals are prepared and as I say, as it happens, it's because we've got some of those contingencies in place.

“For example being able to open up Manston as a lorry park for what's actually happening today, that planning is in place, because of all the work that's gone on with the Kent Resilience Forum and others preparing for the end of the transition, in any case."

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