Priti Patel Slipped Out That There Are 10 Times More Lorries Stuck In Kent Than The Government Claimed
Priti Patel said there are more than 1,500 lorries backed up in Kent as the border with France remains shut (PA)
Priti Patel said there has been some "fluctuation" in the number of lorries waiting in Kent to get across the border into France than the government claimed yesterday.
But it's quite the fluctuation – from 170, as claimed at the government's press conference last night, to 1,500 this morning.
The huge backlog of freight has built up at the approach to the Dover-Calais crossing on Sunday after France banned travel from the UK for 48 hours over a highly contagious new strain of Covid-19.
The home secretary said ministers are "speaking constantly" with France to achieve a resolution "in both our interests" to get freight moving again, but no deal has so far been reached.
Appearing on BBC Breakfast she was asked to clarify how many lorries had been affected by the border closure and were backed up on the M20 leading down to the Channel ports.
Yesterday the transport secretary Grant Shapps told a Downing Street briefing last night there were 170 stuck, but reports emerged it was over a thousand.
Ms Patel said: "First of all, the number of lorries continues to fluctuate so the numbers will be different from when Grant spoke yesterday to this morning.
"The numbers do fluctuate, and I think Highways England has actually confirmed overnight that the numbers were approximately 900 but those numbers change all the time."
However she later admitted to Sky News the current figure was more than 1,500, saying: "I've just been told that currently on the M20 there are 650 lorries, and there are 873 lorries at the inland site in Manston.”
In response the Food and Drink Federation’s chief exec Ian Wright said: “36 hours after the French border was closed to accompanied freight, and with 1,500 lorries stranded in Kent, it is imperative that a solution is found, today, to this issue.
“UK shoppers need have no concerns about food supplies over Christmas, but impacts on local on-shelf availability of certain fresh foods look likely from next week unless we can swiftly restore this link.”
He added: “We must also recognise the terrible toll being taken on UK food exporters and on hauliers. Lorry loads worth millions of pounds are being spoiled. For most, insurance will not cover these losses which must be compensated.”
Patel also this morning defended the UK's handling of the pandemic, insisting her Cabinet colleagues had been “consistently ahead of the curve" in tackling coronavirus. The government has faced consistent criticism that it has acted too late – on introducing lockdowns, and implementing mass testing in particular.
After this latest crisis was sparked by the revelation a new more virulent strain of Covid-19 had been discovered in the South East of England, which also caused Christmas plans for millions of people to be cancelled, Boris Johnson was again accused of acting in a “last-minute” way.
But the home secretary denied that, claiming: “The government has consistently, throughout this year, been ahead of the curve in terms of proactive measures.
“There's nothing last-minute in terms of the work that was undertaken by government in terms of planning and preparing for tier 4.
“These are big decisions that are taken collectively across government based on scientific advisors - Patrick Vallance, Chris Whitty, many, many other individuals as well from the scientific and medical community.”
She also refused to rule out suggestions that more of England will need to be placed in tough tier 4 restrictions as the new strain of coronavirus was revealed to be “everywhere” in the country, according to chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance.
Ms Patel said: "If the virus continues to spread then we will take stronger measures, because at the end of the day our objective is to save lives and to keep people safe.
"It is inevitable as people travel, and of course we're urging people not to travel for the sake of everybody's health, we have to take strong measures and we're doing that."
Asked about whether a nationwide lockdown was inevitable, she replied: "This is a stronger strain of the virus, it's more transmittable. It's a bouncy virus, so obviously people can catch it in a much easier way.
"We have to do everything possible... to squash this virus. We want to do much more to stop the spread of the virus."
And although she was “confident” all schools in England will reopen in a staggered way as planned by 11 January, she was unable to say if all pupils will be back in the classroom.
She told Sky News: "We want to keep schools open, let me be clear about that, but we will take all the appropriate measures around protecting children, the health of children and also protecting teachers and the rest of the population as well around schools. But I do want to emphasise the role that mass testing plays.
"Mass testing is up and running across the country as we know and we have been obviously speaking about mass testing in schools and that is something that is under discussion right now across government for January and when the schools eventually go back."