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Dover boss's plea over Calais chaos

Published 06/07/2015

Lorries backed up on the M20 in Ashford, Kent
Lorries backed up on the M20 in Ashford, Kent

Bosses at the Port of Dover have appealed to the UK Government to stop "aggrieved militant Frenchmen" harming trade.

Chief executive Tim Waggott warned that disruption caused by recent strike action in Calais had cost the UK economy £1 billion.

He insisted ministers could not afford to indulge in "navel gazing" until it happened again or treat the problem as an "immigration issue".

The call, in an open letter, comes after a fortnight of trouble that included the complete closure of the Port of Calais amid wildcat strikes over job cuts.

A group of migrants took advantage of the disruption to try to storm the Channel Tunnel terminal last week, causing further delays to freight and passengers.

Mr Waggott pointed out that £100 billion a year of trade comes through the Port of Dover.

"How could you equate the importance of keeping such valuable trade moving with the incredible disruption caused at a major international gateway - Calais - by the mob rule of a small number of aggrieved militant Frenchmen?" he wrote.

"Unless supermarkets with empty shelves and assembly lines with vital parts missing are to become acceptable, then clearly under no circumstance should the recent situation be allowed to happen again.

"Whilst the Port of Dover has remained open and operational throughout, we and our ferry business partners cannot provide the essential service and operations for the UK and for Europe for which we are world renowned, if Calais is shut or its operations are limited."

Mr Waggott argued that "resilience" was needed to ensure passenger and freight travel could be maintained.

"Our staff have worked tirelessly, and we have had fantastic multi-agency, ferry operator and trade support in dealing with the industrial action at Calais, but it has taken huge resource," he said.

"The Government must now look at turning its focus away from the immediate implications of a £1 billion strike to ensuring a £100 billion trade route can do its job 24/7, unimpeded by others for the long term.

"Would we allow the majority of services from one of our major airports to be curtailed for several days during the summer because of a few militant French workers? Of course not. So why do we allow it to happen to an equivalent passenger hub at Dover that also handles £100 billion of the nation's trade at the same time on a core EU transport corridor?"

He urged the UK and French governments to work together.

"This is not an immigration issue, neither should it result in navel gazing and meaningless statements on the need for mega lorry parks," Mr Waggott wrote.

"This is a debate about our trading island nation maintaining the economic recovery. That is the challenge and what we have seen recently is the stark reality of what happens when Dover is prevented from doing its job by the lawless actions of others."

A Government spokesman said: "As ministers have made clear, the disruption to cross-Channel services that we have seen as a result of these strikes is completely unacceptable.

"The Prime Minister has discussed the situation at Calais with the President Hollande, the Home Secretary has met her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve, and the Transport Secretary has taken up the issue with his opposite number in the French Government.

"We continue to work very closely with the French authorities over the need to stop the blockades and maintain port security, but there does remain a possibility of further disruption and travellers should check travel advice and with their operators."

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