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Red lights flashing for cross-Channel truck pile-up with Brexit
IN the British port of Dover, 10,000 heavy goods vehicles arrive every day in a perfectly orchestrated symphony of comings and goings.
A famous fresco by artist Banksy of a man breaking a star off the EU flag with a chisel, however, is a reminder to truckers that Brexit is close at hand.
Contemplating the chaos that Brexit could cause at the UK-France border, worried lorry driver Peluso Donati told AFP: "There are days when it's a mess, but with this, it'll be even worse." Mr Donati left his company's warehouse in Calais, on France's north-east coast, 10 minutes from the Eurotunnel terminal, at 3 am, fully loaded up for delivery across the Channel.
He has to go through six tests in the hour before boarding the Eurotunnel undersea rail shuttle, including having the truck thoroughly checked over with sniffer dogs, and clearing French and British customs.
More controls in the event of a no-deal Brexit could double these transit times, he said.
As British Prime Minister Theresa May tries to convince MPs to accept her draft deal with the EU, which both Europhiles and Eurosceptics have vowed to torpedo, the threat of a sudden exit from the European Union without a negotiated agreement looms large.
Such a scenario runs "a huge risk of loss of fluidity that panics everyone", Philippe Hourdain, president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Hauts-de-France region, told AFP.
Sebastien Rivera, secretary-general of the National Road Transport Federation at Pas-de-Calais, already imagines "queues of heavy goods vehicles on the Calais A16 motorway and on the port ring road".
"Our vehicles will then, again, be the target of migrants," he warned.
Many migrants take advantage of slow-moving traffic to climb aboard in an effort to reach England.
Mr Donati has experience of this, with "a family: two little girls aged five and seven, a three-year-old boy, a father and a mother" managing to slip into his trailer.
The French side continues to prepare because "nothing at this stage allows us to know if the agreement will ultimately be adopted", French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe explained last Thursday.
He visited the port of Dunkirk which, like other French Channel ports, is building a large additional carpark and setting up a waiting area for trucks heading to the customs controls.
It currently takes only takes two minutes for a truck to complete the formalities. A mere two-minute addition would cause traffic jams of more than 27 km in Dover, and similar chaos in Calais and Dunkirk, the Port of Dover warned on its website.
Unlike other ports, Dover is finding it difficult to adapt.
"The Port of Dover is a small place - we have the cliffs on one side, we have the Channel on the other side, and there is the town of Dover. There is no spare land," Tim Reardon, head of EU exit at the port, told AFP.
David Foley, chief executive of the Dover District Chamber of Commerce, struck a bullish tone as he looked across the Channel to Calais, 33 km away. "Business will cope, business will always cope," he said.
However, he admitted that "what we really need is to know as soon as possible - business doesn't like to wait and see."
Pauline Bastidon, head of European Policy at the Freight Transport Association, one of Britain's largest trade associations, was less optimistic, warning that it was "very difficult to prepare" for the effects of a no-deal Brexit.
They include increased red tape, border crossing issues, market access for companies on both sides of the Channel and the fate of European workers who have become a vital cog in the British economy.
While some companies are "waiting", others have decided to bank on a no-deal option "because if they are ready for that, any other scenarios will be easy", she added. AFP