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Cash pledge to tackle Calais crisis

The UK will invest extra money to tackle the problems caused by migrants at Calais attempting to cross the Channel.

Home Secretary Theresa May and her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve agreed to increase the joint intervention fund to improve security around the port and the Channel Tunnel.

The Home Office would not comment on how much extra money would be committed to the fund.

The announcement came as travel chaos continued as a result of the industrial action by French ferry workers.

Lorry drivers have been left languishing in miles of queues in Kent as it emerged that the ongoing strike was costing the UK economy more than £250 million a day.

More than 3,000 truckers were parked on the M20 in Kent for a fourth day as the partial closure of the Port of Calais continued to cripple Channel crossings.

Migrants camped near the French port have been taking advantage of slow-moving and queuing traffic by trying to board UK-bound vehicles.

The UK agreed in September last year to pay five million euros a year for three years to a joint intervention fund.

Following talks on the escalating crisis, Mrs May and Mr Cazeneuve issued a joint statement setting out the plan to increase funding.

It said: "In light of the increased migration crisis in the Mediterranean and its repercussion on Calais, where there are currently 3,000 migrants, the two ministers decided to further strengthen co-operation, notably by increasing the intervention fund.

"This will enable the installation of additional essential arrangements to prevent access to the port via the beach, but also to secure access to the Channel Tunnel, where incidents have taken place repeatedly over the past weeks.

"In this context, the two ministers emphasised the importance of a rapid resumption of maritime and rail traffic, which is indispensable to economic development on both sides of the Channel.

"In addition, joint information campaigns to inform migrants of the reality of Great Britain's asylum and benefits system for migrants, to reduce the flow of migrants to Calais, will be continued and strengthened."

Ferry operator P&O said it had resumed a full service, but called on the British and French authorities to act to prevent a repeat of the "madness" at Calais.

The disruption began on Monday when MyFerryLink workers staged a wildcat strike in protest at expected job cuts in the French port city.

The industrial action led to Kent Police implementing Operation Stack - the measure used to hold lorries in a queue on the M20 to Dover.

Helen Deeble, chief executive of P&O Ferries, said that the operator was back to "business as usual" and hoped to eliminate the backlog of lorries within 48 hours.

She said: "We are already moving back to our full schedule of 25 sailings a day between Dover and Calais. We have the capacity to move 4,000 freight units a day and we expect to be able to carry the backlog of lorry drivers currently waiting in Operation Stack across to the continent within the next 48 hours.

"This industrial action should never have been allowed to wreak havoc on cross-Channel ferry travel in the first place. It has unfairly disrupted the plans of holidaymakers crossing the Channel for a summer break, caused immense hardship to lorry drivers who have spent literally days queueing on the motorways, and also caused significant damage to the national economies of Britain and France.

"We now look to the French and British governments to ensure that there is no repetition of this madness. The port of Calais is a vital strategic link in the transport infrastructure of both countries and it must stay open."

The statement issued following the meeting between Mrs May and Mr Cazeneuve committed to reinforcing the action against human traffickers responsible for many of the migrants at Calais.

"Already, thanks to joint working, the number of networks dismantled in the Calais region in 2014 has increased by 30% compared to the previous year," the statement said.

"This resolute action will be accompanied by a strengthening of links with transit countries, in order to support the establishment of operations to combat illegal migration and trafficking."

The economic cost of the trouble at Calais was laid bare by T im Waggott, chief executive of the Port of Dover, who said the problems were costing the UK economy £250 million a day.

He said: "The scale and prolonged period of disruption is bad for us all and it is bad for the UK too. The Port handles trade to the value of £100 billion every year and every day that this situation in France continues costs the UK at least £250 million.

"That is simply unacceptable and incredibly damaging."

Hauliers backed up in miles of traffic on the M20 shared their frustration at the disruption.

Graham Davis, from Gloucestershire, said the problem was getting worse.

He said: "I have been stuck here only since 8am but you could be here for up to 30 hours. It costs thousands, millions, but the French are the French and they just do it.

"Somebody ought to sort it out. We've got to fight all the migrants to get away then we've got strikes and queues, and God knows what.

"It should be made easy but it's not. The worst part is hanging around. It does your head in. I have been doing this for 30 or 40 years and it's just getting worse."

Lithuanian lorry driver Vaidas Petretis, 37, said: "I've only been working for a month and it has been difficult. I have only been stuck for a few hours but many have not moved for maybe a day. It costs a lot of money to just be sat here, but I really don't know what the solution is."

There have been calls from the UK's Road Haulage Association for the military to be deployed to break the strike as livelihoods and lives were at risk.

Its chief executive Richard Burnett said it was "absolute mayhem", adding: "The time for talking around the table has passed.

"The UK and French governments must acknowledge their responsibilities to all Port of Calais users, move in and act. If this means deployment of the armed forces then so be it."

The Port of Calais is now operating two berths enabling P&O Ferries to run a full service to Calais.

DFDS Seaways is running a full service to Dunkirk, with an additional ship diverted to the route to help accommodate heavy traffic.


From Belfast Telegraph