Despite fears of a transport collapse, freight traffic across the Channel continued without major hold-ups and complications in the first hours of Friday after the UK officially quit the EU customs union.
Hundreds of lorries have already travelled between France and Britain in both directions through the Channel Tunnel, while dozens more have been transported by ferries.
“The traffic was strong enough for an exceptional and historic night,” a spokesman for Getlink, the Channel Tunnel’s operator, told AFP, adding that “everything went well.”
Due to Britain no longer being part of the EU customs union, the trucks needed to complete new formalities to travel in and out of the UK. But they handled the paperwork well, as “none of the lorries were sent back,” according to the spokesman.
A Romanian truck containing post and parcels was first to cross the border from the French side. Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart visited the checkpoint for the occasion and pressed the button to allow the vehicle to leave. The reintroduction of customs checks with the UK after its 47-year-long EU membership “will have consequences whose range we don’t yet know,” Bouchart pointed out.
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The maiden lorry to arrive in France from Britain had a Ukrainian driver behind the wheel, who said his English colleagues congratulated him for making history.
The UK port of Dover – Europe’s busiest for roll-on, roll-off freight – has seen “a small but steady stream of lorries” arriving on Friday, according to the media. RT’s Ruptly video agency published footage from Dover which also shows normal traffic. Truckers were being asked to stop and present negative coronavirus tests, but it didn’t create any major delays.
Friday was a public holiday for New Year’s Day in both the UK and France, so pressure on the cross-Channel traffic is expected to increase starting from next week.
French officials insisted that the smooth start to the post-Brexit traffic was helped by the introduction of the so-called “smart border.” This system requires haulers to submit all data on their freight online before arriving, so the lorry only needs a quick scan when it reaches the border. Some trucks, however, can still be subjected to extra checks.
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There were fears that Britain’s exit from the EU would create transport problems after massive bottlenecks were seen on the border in December. These were caused by France halting travel from the UK due to the discovery of a new, more contagious Covid-19 mutation there. But the issue had been resolved before the New Year as all drivers entering France are now required to do Covid-19 tests.
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