TRAFFIC chaos in Kent has got worse – with 6,000 lorries still stranded and more arriving as gridlock continues on Christmas Eve.
Truckers face being stranded in Dover for the festive season after ministers admitted the issues could wear on for days to come.
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Furious drivers clashed with cops this week as tensions hit boiling point – despite the border to France finally reopening after its 48-hour blockade.
Now the Transport Secretary has called for "patience" from thousands of workers stranded outside the port after the initial travel ban – and says the border between the UK and France will remain open "throughout Christmas".
Yesterday, there were 4,000 trucks waiting in huge queues. But 2,000 more have joined long lines today, despite the Government urging hauliers to stay away from Kent.
Some drivers are facing a fourth night sleeping and eating in their cabs after the border was temporarily closed on Sunday night.
Trucks began entering the Eurotunnel again on Wednesday after the French government agreed to allow drivers through provided they had a negative Covid result.
However, it's feared it could take days to carry out tests on the hauliers.
Minister Grant Shapps said work continues to "get traffic rolling", but added drivers needed to "follow instructions" from British officials in order to leave.
It comes after some of the drivers protested by blocking roads near the lorry holding facility at Manston Airport, where there have been complaints over a lack of food and toilets.
Mr Shapps told the BBC: "The issue is just the logistics of people following the instructions and making sure we can keep the port clear in order that we can get the traffic rolling.
"The more that people follow the clear instructions the faster we can get this resolved.
"It will take a matter of days rather than weeks or anything else but there will be, I'm afraid, some patience required."
He added the Government was providing "welfare" for the lorry drivers stuck at the border and would continue to do so in the days to come.
The disused airfield site at Manston has become the main testing centre for hauliers, with drivers required to self-administer the tests in their cabs under supervision.
Around 170 military personnel, including those from the 36 Engineer Regiment and 1 Irish Guards, are assisting with testing.
Adina Valean, the European Union's transport commissioner, said she was pleased stranded trucks are now moving "slowly across the Channel" after Covid restrictions between France and the UK were lifted.
"I am pleased that at this moment, we have trucks slowly crossing the Channel, and I want to thank UK authorities that they started testing the drivers at a capacity of 300 tests per hour," Ms Valean tweeted.
"I deplore that France went against our recommendations and brought us back to the situation we were in in March when the supply chains were interrupted."
Kent Police said one man was arrested on Wednesday for obstructing a highway in Dover. A police car was also damaged during a disturbance at Manston, the force added.
Yesterday, Kent Council leader Roger Gough told Sky News tensions between police and drivers had calmed down but added the situation remained "quite fragile".
He added he expected the number of lorries entering the Eurotunnel to "pick up" rapidly.
France imposed the travel ban in response to fears about the spread of the more infectious coronavirus strain, which is spreading in the UK.
Hauliers must be able to show proof of a negative test result carried out within the past 72 hours in order to be able to cross into France.
All truck drivers, regardless of nationality, will be required to take a lateral flow test which can detect the new strain of Covid-19 and return results in about 30 minutes, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) said.
Those who test positive will be moved into Covid-secure hotel accommodation to self-isolate for 10 days.
Richard Burnett, head of the RHA, told the BBC drivers are being treated as "pawns in a larger game" – and asked: "Are they going to be held here until Boxing Day or beyond?"
"It just feels like it's a lever the French have pulled specifically around the Brexit negotiations," he said.
Yesterday, drivers told of their heartbreak at spending Christmas Day away from their homes.
Wojtek Golawski, from Lukow in Poland, was forced to call to his pregnant wife and daughters to tell them he was unlikely to make it home for Christmas.
The 34-year-old, who has two girls aged three and five, said: “It means that I'm not going to make it home to my daughters and to my wife, who is seven months pregnant.
“I had to make a very tough phone call to her earlier this evening to say that the problems in England meant I would have to miss Christmas this year.
“She and the girls were very upset and so was I.
"It's going to be depressing celebrating it on my own in the same lorry cab I've spent the last two nights sleeping in.”
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