British supermarkets warned of shortages of some goods just days before Christmas, and even if talks between the two nations result in the border being unsealed, the chaos will take days to resolve.
On Tuesday morning, police officers stood at the entrance of the English port of Dover with a large sign behind them that read “French Borders Closed.”
As of Tuesday, there were signs of progress, as police instructed some drivers to get a coronavirus test at nearby Manston Airport in the hopes that a deal could be reached by the end of the day between French and British authorities.
Since the border closed, hundreds of lorries trying to cross from the UK into Calais have been stuck in traffic tailbacks. As of Tuesday morning, about 873 vehicles were at Manston Airport, with approximately 650 vehicles on the M20 motorway, the UK’s Department for Transport said.
While drivers from Europe are not prohibited from entering the UK, fears are rising that hauliers will resist doing so for fear of not being able to return home, leading to food shortages.
The period leading up to Christmas is traditionally a busy time for trade, as fresh produce from Europe is imported for the festive period. On top of this, the UK is stockpiling ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.
On Monday, Sainsbury’s, one of the UK’s leading supermarket chains, said If nothing changes, there will be shortages of lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit.
Meanwhile, the British government says it is providing food, drink and toilets for British truck drivers currently stuck in gridlock in the area surrounding the Eurotunnel.
A Romanian driver named Adrian, who is stuck at Dover, told CNN: “A lot of people are making their holidays here in the cars … they cannot go home. It’s not good. We are lucky because we are here in Dover, but a lot of people are stuck on the roads. They can’t go to the toilet or have a shower.”
“We do not get respect at all … but if we are stopping, the whole of Europe is going to do nothing. This truck, that truck, they are delivering food … if they stop then nobody’s gonna eat.”
Adrian added that he had slept in his vehicle for the last three days with no assistance from the authorities or access to bathrooms or clean water. “It’s not a good situation. Many of us have families at home, they have kids at home.” He said he was making dinner off a small cooker from the back of his van.
Meanwhile, the challenges appearing at Dover could be a preview for what might happen on January 1, when the Brexit transition period ends and those barriers to trade go from being temporary to the status quo.
“Supply chains were already under pressure from the upcoming January 1 changes, so adding border closure has left us looking rather vulnerable,” David Henig, UK director of European Centre For International Political Economy, told CNN. “This is also coming at a poor time for global confidence in the UK, given border barriers are about to rise.”
Luke McGee reported and wrote from London; Salma Abdelaziz reported from Dover. Sharon Braithwaite contributed to this report.