Smooth-running trade between Dover and Calais is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union. In fact, especially for the EU, as they sell us much more than we sell them. Yet the behaviour of the French authorities over Christmas and since appears to have hampered that vital smooth trade rather than enable it.
The closure of the border at Christmas caused massive tailbacks. Lorries clogged up Dover and filled Manston airport to the brim. This was all done in the name of the pandemic, with claims that it was necessary to virus test all hauliers heading to the continent. Yet examination of the numbers shows that this was never the case. Tens of thousands of drivers were tested, and only around 0.30% of hauliers had a positive indication. This is a tiny proportion compared to the incidence of the virus in the general population of either France or the UK. Haulage is quite an isolated profession compared to many others. Drivers tend to work in their cabs, and when unloading can take measures to keep social distance. So it never made any sense to close the border to hauliers on health grounds.
This explains why there was condemnation of France’s behaviour by the World Health Organisation – and even the EU itself. The standard international position is that vital trade and essential goods should continue to flow unimpeded during the pandemic. That’s the position the UK has taken – where hauliers are exempt from the new border restrictions announced by the Government. That’s the right and responsible approach and something which I raised with the Home Secretary in Parliament last week.
In recent days, there are additional concerns that an unduly heavy-handed approach is being taken on export paperwork. Then there was the approach of the EU to the virus manufacturing challenges, trying to intimidate pharmaceutical companies who are working overtime and moving mountains to get as much vaccine ready and distributed as is humanly possible. It has been nothing short of a total disgrace. They have rightly backed down but not before causing a great deal of damage to their international reputation.
The Dover-Calais route matters to our community. The Port, ferry, import, export and haulage industries are significant to local jobs and the local economy. I want to see that mutually beneficial relationship grow and flourish. I also want to see our business community be able to benefit from additional economic relationships from Dover to right across the globe. That’s why I welcome the Government’s application this week to join the Transpacific Partnership of 11 countries – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. This global trade partnership covers 500million people, and a £9 Trillion free trade area.
As an independent sovereign free trading nation, we are well placed to make the case for global benefit of good trading relationships. With good trade, we all win.