The restriction led to mile-long pileups on both sides of the channel, as hundreds of trucks laden with seafood and produce were stopped along the highway leading to the port of Dover. In Calais, on the French side, truckers waited for government health guidance before driving their loads into Britain. The lack of clarity left between 2,000 and 3,000 French truckers stranded on the British side of the channel.
The French plan for health protocols to allow truckers to resume border crossings raised hopes that Britain’s supply chain would not be disrupted for more than a couple of days. British officials also said the restrictions would not affect shipments of the coronavirus vaccine, which come from a Pfizer plant in Belgium.
As a result of contingency planning in case the talks on a post-Brexit trade deal fail, Britain has increased its capacity to deal with disruption to traffic in Kent, where the major ports are. But so great was the gridlock on Monday that one supermarket chain warned of possible shortages of some food products ahead of Christmas, and business groups called for urgent action.
“They are carrying perishable products worth millions and the clock is ticking for that product to survive these delays,” said James Withers, chief executive at Scotland Food & Drink, who estimated that Scotland would ship £5 million, about $6.7 million, worth of food, much of it perishable, into France every day this week.
Mr. Withers said a new health protocol that would allow truckers to board cross-Channel ferries to France “could be a crucial development.” But he said the disarray should prompt the government to rethink what happens at the end of the Brexit transition period, which expires on Dec. 31.
“For two months we have been calling for a delay to new Brexit checks on exports,” Mr. Withers said. “The U.K. government has to recognize that we are in the midst of a perfect storm and to risk further disruption and financial damage to businesses in just 10 days’ time is completely unacceptable.”
Ian Wright, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, warned that the disruption had “the potential to cause serious disruption to U.K. Christmas fresh food supplies — and exports of U.K. food and drink.”